Saturday, 17 October 2015

Review: Fiend

It's been a long time since I read a book that made me want to quit it. Fiend by Peter Stenson has now entered the ranks. To be clear, it's not a bad book. It's not particularly great, and I did enjoy the concept. It was uniquely written and morbidly dark, but there was a line that was crossed that I can't get past. Which is saying something, because I can read almost anything. There will be some minor spoilers ahead, but honestly, unless you can read something like American Psycho without cringing too much, I can promise that this is not the book for you.

When Chase Daniels first sees the little girl in umbrella socks tearing open the Rottweiler, he's not too concerned. As a longtime meth addict, he’s no stranger to horrifying, drug-fuelled hallucinations. But as he and his fellow junkies soon discover, the little girl is no illusion. The end of the world really has arrived. 

The funny thing is, Chase’s life was over long before the apocalypse got here, his existence already reduced to a stinking basement apartment and a filthy mattress and an endless grind of buying and selling and using. He’s lied and cheated and stolen and broken his parents’ hearts a thousand times. And he threw away his only shot at sobriety a long time ago, when he chose the embrace of the drug over the woman he still loves. 

And if your life’s already shattered beyond any normal hopes of redemption…well, maybe the end of the world is an opportunity. Maybe it’s a last chance for Chase to hit restart and become the man he once dreamed of being. Soon he’s fighting to reconnect with his lost love and dreaming of becoming her hero among civilization’s ruins. 

But is salvation just another pipe dream? 

Propelled by a blistering first-person voice and featuring a powerfully compelling antihero, Fiend is at once a riveting portrait of addiction, a pitch-black love story, and a meditation on hope, redemption, and delusion—not to mention one hell of a zombie novel.

Sounds kind of appealing, right? I mean, the back blurb was certainly the reason I picked it up. And for most of the book, it holds true. I wasn't expecting to like Chase, and I didn't. He's selfish and pathetic and crude, and I just couldn't empathize with him. That's not what made me hate him, but more on that later.

The only thing I can say that Fiend has going for it is the original concept– druggies alone surviving the zombie apocalypse. I really did enjoy reading the progress of meth addict Chase as he struggled to come to grips with reality– that the horrible things he was seeing were real, and not the result of the drugs he was pumping into his system. From there, the story progressed to Chase and his best friend Type as they tried to rescue Chase's ex-girlfriend, in an effort for Chase to do something right for once in his life. But along the way, they realize that they'll have to keep finding drugs, because it will be the only thing that keeps them from being infected with the unknown pathogen that kills any healthy person it touches.

To call the story bleak is an understatement. There might have been a few moments when there were some statements or dialogue that could have been considered funny for people who enjoy dark humour, but they went right over my head. I just couldn't care enough about the characters to give a damn about what they were doing to themselves. The story itself was decently paced and carried a lot of symbolism, and the writing style reflected the disconnect that Chase seemed to have with the rest of the world. If you plan to read this, be prepared for long running sentences with no punctuation, and a lot of sporadic thoughts. But to get past that, you have to enjoy the characters. And I did not.

Some of them I could tolerate, like Chase's self-loathing girlfriend KK, who gave up addiction but fell back into the trap she can't seem to escape. I think I enjoyed her the most, because you couldn't help but pity her. She knew she was in a never-ending cycle that she couldn't control, but she just didn't know how to escape it. I wasn't that fond of Type until the end, when you realized that his mistake was meeting the wrong person.

Enter Chase, a character I hate as much as just about any villain George R. R. Martin could ever create. I know we're supposed to sympathize with him as he struggles to find purpose, to save KK and look out for the group, etc. I know that he's a junkie and that he'll do bad things. I know I'm not supposed to like him very much. But he's not like Heisenberg from Breaking Bad, in that you love him because you hate him. Chase is just a terrible person. You name it, he'll do it– anything to get his next high because he can't stop. He can't see how he's destroying himself and those around him. And I do mean anything. 

I was tolerating him until about three quarters through, when he did something that absolutely infuriated me. I read the passage twice to make sure I read it right, then almost hurled my ebook across the room. Seriously. I won't spoil it, but suffice to say that I can't forget it. I feel that this action crossed a line that should not be crossed in fiction. There was no purpose to it. No true punishment for what he did. He thought about it once or twice, but that was it. It was an open loop in the story that was never closed, and while I finished the book to see if Chase was punished for it, I was enraged to find out that he wasn't.

A lot of this is subjective, but honestly, I read books to escape from reality for a little while, not to be reminded why the Real World isn't that great of a place. At least with American Psycho, there was closure that I could get behind. Not the case with Fiend. It just made me upset, and I can't get that stupid scene out of my head. I hope you're happy, Mr. Stenson. 

You can probably tell that this book got me riled, but as I said earlier, it's not a bad book. Some reviewers on Goodreads really enjoyed it. Hell if I know why, though. Aside from the premise, the book is a letdown, led by a character who is selfish, manipulative, and weak. If you've read American Psycho or are a fan of Breaking Bad, maybe you'll enjoy it. I make no promises, and I am so damn glad that I chose to finally dive in to the Divergent series as soon as I finished Fiend, if only so I could do something to forget that damn scene. 


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