I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I picked up the recent re-issue of Kaaron Warren’s 2010 novel, Slights. The book’s blurb gives very little away but presented an intriguing enough premise to lure me in.
What if, when you died, you didn’t go to heaven or hell, and you aren’t guided toward a bright white light? What if the afterlife is a room full of people you slighted in your life, there ready to enact revenge for the perceived wrong you did them?
The friend you lost touch with. The man you bumped into in the street. The neighbor you never spoke to. The exes and estranged family members. Your postman, your local shop owner. These are all people who felt slighted by you, even if only for a passing moment. These are the people waiting for Stevie in her afterlife following a traumatic near-death experience. It is an experience she finds as intriguing as she does troubling and one she finds herself irrevocably drawn to revisiting.
Although this is marketed as a horror title, the closest comparison I can liken the experience to is Iain Banks’ psychological masterpiece, The Wasp Factory. Both are challenging books, both in content and theme, and both feature unconventional and unlikeable narrators. To compare the two further would be to give too much about Slights away and it is a book that is best read when you know as little as possible but, if you have read and enjoyed The Wasp Factory, then Slights is a highly recommended read.
The story’s narrator is Stevie. An eighteen-year-old woman when we first meet her. The book is split into chapters that each outline a year of her life, as told in the first person. It soon becomes clear that Stevie has a skewed view of the world, and suffers from an antisocial personality disorder and what follows is a stream of conscious, memoir-style retelling of her life story, beginning at the point at which she has her first near-death experience. Stevie is a tragic character, but one that is difficult to empathize with, as her thoughts and actions are so utterly alien. The tone of the book switches between surreal, horrifying and hilarious, moving between full-on horror, family drama and tragedy effortlessly and while you may not sympathize with her, Stevie is a fascinating and unpredictable character to follow.
The build-up is slow and the story is so uniquely jarring and disjointed that you’re never quite sure where it’s going next, but it’s so gripping that you’re compelled to keep reading, and so relentlessly downbeat that you’re afraid just how far things will go.
Slights is a strange, darkly disturbing and thoroughly engaging character study and one that will polarize readers with its unrelenting bleakness. Love it or hate it, you will have a strong reaction either way, and that in itself makes it a book worthy of your attention.
Slights by Kaaron Warren
When Stevie Searle almost dies in the accident that kills her mother, she doesn’t see a shining path or a golden light. Instead, she sees everyone she’s ever slighted, waiting to take a piece of her in a cold, dark room.
DescriptionWhen Stevie Searle almost dies in the accident that kills her mother, she doesn’t see a shining path or a golden light. Instead, she sees everyone she’s ever slighted, waiting to take a piece of her in a cold, dark room. The person whose place she took in the queue, the schoolmate she cheated off, the bus driver she didn’t pay? All waiting. All wanting to take their revenge when she finally crosses over. Stevie is fascinated by the dark room so she sends herself there again. And again. And Again.