Corrosion by Jon Bassoff
Book Review by Shane Douglas Keene
Author John Bassoff inscribed this book, “For Shane, wear your mask well.”
And, if you were like me, you’d read that and think, “What the fuck?”
What the fuck, indeed. It’s what I thought when I first opened the book and read those words in Bassoff’s careful scrawl, but it certainly becomes clear eventually, and it does so in nasty, unexpected ways. And I don’t mean erotic nasty, I mean dirty, gritty, and fucking mean nasty. Bassoff’s got a sharp mind and even sharper pen, and he uses those tools with the utmost ability, painting for us a bleak, horrifically plausible picture of a nightmare made real, a life wrought in blood and fire and death, and he pulls no punches.
As I was reading Jon Bassoff’s Corrosion I began to think it was a book that was going to be considerably hard to write about. The more I read, the more I figured out, the more difficult it seemed like it would be to tell you anything without giving key details away that would let all the cats out of the bag at once. But as it turns out, it isn’t hard to write about a guy whose work still sings in your blood, raging in your bones long after you’ve closed its pages. Bassoff has created here an exceptionally dark landscape, peopling it with a cast of the most fucked up and truly unlikeable characters I’ve encountered in a long time. And while that statement may seem off-putting, it shouldn’t be. Not at all. Because under Jon’s pen, these people come alive. They breathe and they bleed, they suffer and they punish, they do shitty things to other people, and they do them without remorse. And while it’s sad to have to say it, that’s pretty goddamn true to life these days, and it makes this story sing with plausibility.
And here’s another statement that might sound like a critique but isn’t: Jon Bassoff writes the kind of fiction a Big Five publisher wouldn’t touch. Because there’s no whitewash here. This novel is all balls and brawn, blood and poison, the kind of pure creative expression that feels somehow threatening; dangerous. Author Deborah Eisenberg said, “Art, itself, is inherently subversive. It’s destabilizing. It undermines, rather than reinforces, what you already know and what you already think”, and she could well have been speaking of Bassoff’s work. It’s angry, honest, and grungy and it revels in unabashed brutality, almost gleefully revealing the bloody layers of the human soul. As we follow the intertwined stories of Joseph Downs, Benton Faulk, and a strange masked preacher with a dark and twisted secret, we encounter raw humanity in all it’s glorious, terrifying ugliness. The author gives not a single nod to apology in this narrative, choosing to look directly at the war-ravaged face of the soldier, the fucked-up “ideals” of a young man in the throes of acute mental illness, and the pathetic attempts of one man to come to terms with his own actions. To find some sort of redemption behind a mask of his own choosing.
To use another quotable quote, Pablo Picasso said, “If only we could pull out our brain and use only our eyes.” Jon Bassoff seems to do this very thing in Corrosion. He takes us out of our heads and into his setting, showing us the bleak frigid landscape, painting unsettling images of violence and vicious brutality born of suffering, loss, and insanity, never once relying on the use of excessive exposition that lesser authors lean on to describe a place. We see these frozen mountains, these shitty little backwater towns and fucked up people, through the eyes of his characters and we see them in vivid, technicolor surreality. Bassoff has a knack for imagery and he dresses his narrative with the flair of a punk rock poet noir, his canvas bejeweled with stunning visuals of oppressive locales and stark, unapologetic savagery.
Oddly enough, as stunning as are his character studies and his eloquence, the glue that holds this whole thing together is the pacing. It rages along with the rumbling cadence of a stampede drumming in your brain, thrumming in your heart as you burn through pages like leaves in a forest fire. And you won’t come out the back end of this story the same as you went in. It’s a tale that, to use Eisenberg’s choice of terms, undermines your concept of identity and may well have you looking in the mirror and questioning your own reality by the time you’re finished. In Corrosion, the author dips his pen in a well of despair and freely spills hopelessness into every paragraph, filling you with dread and anticipation and, finally, a deep longing for your next Jon Bassoff experience.
And here’s something else to consider: Corrosion is his fucking debut novel. He has since written at least four other novels that I know of. Are they as good? Are they even better, given the experience he’s gained since the publication of this book? Give me some time and I’ll let you know, as I will damn sure be reading a hell of a lot more from this phenom of a strange fiction author. Jon Bassoff is one of those writers that became an instant favorite and I’ll be tearing through the rest of his work, including a brand new one this summer, as soon as I possibly can. You should too.