There’s nothing like a good slow burn. Nathan Ballingrud’s chapbook The Visible Filth is just that.
It’s a low key tale of Will, a New Orleans bartender who happens upon a mobile that contains some deeply disturbing photos and footage. The book isn’t just concerned with the gruesome imagery and it’s purpose however. The Visible Filth is equally about Will’s troubled relationship with his placeholder girlfriend Carrie, his true love Alicia, and her placeholder boyfriend, Jeffrey.
The complicated lives of Will and Alicia who so consciously attempt to shun the ‘conventional’ lifestyle, yet are caught in a common relationship cliche, feel genuine. The characters are quickly and effectively defined in a refreshingly brisk manner that allows us to get on with where these people are now, not where they’ve been. Will’s plays in his attempts to win the game he sees life as, as well as his counter-plays against the hidden moves he believes Alicia is making, is fascinating and genuinely gripping. Ballingrud is an author who knows how to represent love as the hunt. It’s rare to say that the ordinary story is just as compelling as the extraordinary one.
This fidelity to the complexities of life is what lends the extraordinary part of the story its weighty authenticity. When the first fantastical element occurs it does so through overly familiar means in an already well established setting. It takes its time and it successfully pays off with sickening reality. The imagery is for the most part very interesting and disturbing. A caveat, however, there is a recurring device that is a plainly a direct lift from The Ring. Ridiculously so. In a story that had been so inventive and original thus far, it’s a mighty disappointment, and it really jolts the reader out of the story. A forgivable one, given the content that surrounds it, but a shocker nonetheless.
Deeply sinister, potent and grotesque, The Visible Filth is another superb read from This Is Horror.
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