The Bone Parade

by Mark Nykanen (Hyperion), reading at Annie Blooms, 7834 SW Capitol Hwy, Tuesday Feb. 24, 7:30 pm

O ften relegated to supermarket checkout stands and Barnes & Noble discount shelves, horror novels are almost automatically doomed to pulpy, mass-market connotations. I usually feel that relegating this entire genre to sub-standard expectations and exposure is literary snobbery at its worst, but after reading Mark Nykanen's The Bone Parade, I'm thinking that literary prejudice has one benefit: at least it'll keep most people from reading Nykanen's uninspired, piss-poor genre writing.

Unapologetically smacking of Thomas Harris and Stephen King, The Bone Parade follows Ashley Stassler, a sculptor/villain (yep, you read that right) who kidnaps entire families, tortures them, takes impressions of their pain-distorted bodies as he kills them, and then displays the resulting "sculptures." Eventually, Stassler is satisfied with the torture and the killing takes on an adorable intern from an unnamed university in Portland. When the adorable intern predictably goes a-missin', it's up to her heroic sculpture professor (yep, you read that right, too) to track down Stassler at his rural Utah foundry--just in time for a patently ridiculous and overblown ending that would make Jerry Bruckheimer cringe.

Nykanen does make one interesting choice: having the solipsistic Stassler serve as one of the narrators. It's an initially intriguing move that quickly backfires. Since Stassler's victims and crimes are only described from his own viewpoint, they're portrayed as nothing more than raw materials for his work. Eliminating any sympathy for the victims makes the impact of Stassler's crimes middling--Nykanen tries to compensate with exceedingly explicit descriptions of Stassler's torture techniques, but instead of instilling any terror, these passages just browbeat the reader with the sense of how desperately Nykanen wants to instill terror.

That sense of futilely attempted manipulation is what makes The Bone Parade so tiresome--there's only so much fun to be had with graphically described violence and pervy sexual hijinx before one notices the lack of any emotional or narrative impact. ERIK HENRIKSEN