First published in July of 2009, Australian author Kaaron Warren’s debut full length novel ‘Slights’ followed a suitably impressive reception towards her previously published short fiction. The book’s cover purposefully avoids offering up any sort of detailed blurb on the novel’s storyline other than short quotes of praise for the novel and hints as to the general content with the intriguing “File Under: Horror – Real-life Terror/Damaged Lives/Family Secrets/Beyond Death”.
At just eighteen years old, Stevie Searle is thrust into the traumatic experience of a car crash in which her mother is killed. Stevie’s father, a cop for the local police force, was killed whilst on duty during Stevie’s early childhood. Now Stevie is left alone in what was once their family house, whilst her brother, Peter, lives with his wife, Maria, (who Stevie detests) with their two young children.
After undergoing no less than two near-death experiences as a result of the car accident, Stevie is now forming an understanding of what awaits her (and very probably others) after she passes away. During her brief moments of death, Stevie is subjected to escalating degrees of torture at the hands of everyday people who she has come into contact with and slighted for whatever reason. These grudges are of a purely trivial nature; however, the resulting torment that awaits her at their hands is an unjustifiably magnified response to such small misdemeanours.
Already harbouring a litany of behavioural problems that would keep Sigmund Freud busy for years, Stevie’s stance on life is an entertainingly simple one (from the outside at least), with her reaction to anything that does not follow her own unique way of thinking, often resulting in an outspoken rejection or sheer mockery. What from other people's perspective would appear to be a string of endless (and perhaps even mindless) acts of anti-social behaviour, are instead shown from the Stevie point-of-view as an entirely sane and acceptable response to an everyday occurrence. The outcome, as one would guess, if a vast array of slighted individuals lying in the wake of this unfortunately self-destructive character.
Stevie’s obsessive compulsive disorder (‘OCD’) dominates her day-to-day life, carving out a symbolic reflection of the young girl’s inner turmoil that remains hidden from her own eyes. Stevie begins to become less aware of the reality of life, and instead, more concerned with what awaits her (and everyone else) in the afterlife. In an effort to find out more and corroborate her own understanding, Stevie begins taking the lives of others to find out what is lying in wait for them at the moment of their death.
However, her past and that of her family is shrouded in secrets that are screaming to be heard. With each revelation comes a new emotional obstacle that threatens to swallow Stevie up once and for all...
Kaaron Warren’s creatively written tale allows for a uniquely intriguing perspective similar to that of Iain Banks’ debut novel ‘The Wasp Factory’ (1984). Although the character of Stevie is that of a truly disturbed and emotionally stunted individual, Warren still successfully portrays a very convincing insight from behind the characters eyes.
The storyline utilises a constant backbone of sharp comedy from Stevie’s uninhibited and outspoken approach to life. Moments in the book, such as the various messages that Stevie leaves her brother, Peter, on his answer-machine, are nothing short of laugh-out-loud comedy. Everything that is said by Stevie is a straight-faced joke, designed to unnerve but ultimately amuse. Her brother gets her humour and basks in it for the sake of his own sanity (as well as the pretence of his sisters’ sanity).
Warren maintains a clouded level of mystery as to Stevie’s past, particularly to the events leading up to and ultimately surrounding her beloved father’s death. When Warren finally unveils the truth behind it all, the realisation is somehow more subdued than you would have thought it should have been. Each revelation is a stepping-stone along the pathway of the novel’s plot. However, these important events are still only a side-note to the more dominating depiction of Stevie’s deeply disturbed personality.
Warren offers up snippets of understanding to the underlying plot throughout the tale. Each one has its own unique subplot that carefully inter-weaves with the overall thrust of the tale. The subplots eventually find themselves calmly merging into one solid understanding, which has taken the reader through seventeen of Stevie’s years, to the final age of thirty-five.
The storyline is as complex as it is entertaining, with eventful subplots endlessly circling around the main thread of the tale. Each one of the characters is given a well-developed personality, with unique and often wholly unflattering characteristics.
Although utterly disturbed and horrendously anti-social, the reader can’t help but feel a growing love and emotional bound towards Stevie. Like with Frank Cauldhame from ‘The Wasp Factory’ (1984) this is somewhat disorientating, as well as deeply thought provoking.
All in all, the tale is a truly inspired and analytically challenging read that will entertain as much as it will claw at your emotions. This is a truly intriguing but entertaining dissection of a damaged mind.
The tale runs for a total of 502 pages as well as including a bonus interview with the author entitled “Meet the Author: 20 Hasty Questions for Kaaron Warren” and a 10 page extract from the author’s novel ‘Mistification’ (2011).
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