Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Book Review: The Torturer’s Wife by Thomas Glave

There are nine stories in this collection. The title story, perhaps the most striking, is the dark portrait of the wife of a prison camp commandant, who oversees the torture of political prisoners. She is haunted by the atrocities committed under her husband’s orders. In a slow and convincing way, she looses her sanity. She dreams of the mutilated bodies calling to her, sees severed body parts raining down from the sky, hears the agonizing shrieks. As her sanity finally crumbles, she decides on a heart-wrenching atonement. The reader never really meets the husband, and we never find out his name. He is always referred to as He, or Him, always capitalized, as if the author were talking of God. In fact, I took that to mean that the author was making a statement of why He (God) allows the atrocities to exist at all. And in the end, the wife attempts to kill Him (God) for the horror he allows. To this reader, it is a deep and compelling statement about war, religion, God.

Other stories in this marvelous collection are equally as deep, and equally as dark. “Between” delves into the profound ambivalence at the heart of an interracial couple barreling towards disaster. It is a study of men caught within the barriers of racial and class differences, while at the same time making sensual discoveries. “South Beach, 1992” explores the intensely-felt moments between two men as they discover they are HIV+. “The Blue Globes” tells the sad tale of two men, lovers since boyhood, who marry women and live as society deems, only meeting occasionally to celebrate their love via sensuality.

All these stories explore problems in relationships between man and God, between lovers, between couples and society. They are expertly painted portraits of the traumas of war, the devastation of homophobia, and the triumph of desire. They are dark, gripping, honest tales.

Glave’s prose is vibrant, and immediate. It carries the reader along as it delves deep into the grim places of the human mind. There are times when his prose seems to drag on too long, as if the reader wants to hurry beyond these stark images, but the author will not hurry, will not let the reader ignore the images and feelings his words create.

This is not a book for the faint of heart, or someone looking for simply an entertaining read. They are disturbing images, graphic, yet fascinating. As if one were looking at a train wreck. Putting this book down, I felt I will go back at some point soon and reread, in order to more fully understand and appreciate this beautiful and intriguing look at post-postmodern war fiction.

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