Books in Canada, April 2002
Review by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer
Step into Clint Hutzulak's sepulchral world. The Beautiful Dead End is a place of necrophilia, jealous murder, hard drinking, loveless sex, suicide and disappearance. Everything about this book is falling away — the plot, the prose, the characters, the landscape. It is all in a state of ghostly transference.
Contrived like a pot-boiler noir, The Beautiful Dead End is entirely filmic, almost superficial in its dealings with what feels like a driving plot but is not. Stace returns to haunt his old stomping grounds. He's a murderer; that's common knowledge. He overdoses while in the apartment of his ex-wife's friend, Tanya. Tanya and her friend, Wes, spend the book trying to dispose of the body. Meanwhile Stace finds himself in a parallel world, in limbo, where the dead congregate until their worldly bodies are discovered.
The Beautiful Dead End is at heart a journey motif novel and within this context Stace is encouraged to examine his earthly existence and to evolve; the process of emotional education is meant to release him to some un-named heaven, where he can be cocooned in honey. The pot-boiler turns into a starkly lucid dream in Hutzulak's hands — unfound cadavers are lying about, their perplexed spirits watching us as we sense them.
The prose is in a state of vanishment too. It is austere, trimmed of all unnecessary adornment — verbs go missing, subjects lost; Hutzulak is fond of the non sequitar (Every time you touched me, you left a scar. p167). Words for Hutzulak are remnants of the dead and their disappearance fulfills a personal mandate that the reader must establish for herself by reading between the words, in the spaces, in the unsaid. And so we are obliged to enter into the story while the story, somehow, as if on its own accord, seeps in.
The characters are reprehensible and barely drawn, often unbelievable in their various perversions. And yet, strangely it is this lack of clear characterization that somehow resonates, that uncannily draws one in to Hutzulak's central disturbances — the themes of apathy, recurring pain, coldness.
The Beautiful Dead End is a conundrum of influences: Northern Gothic, existentialism, cult noir film. Still, it is always quintessentially Canadian — the windswept prairies, the suburban encroachment, the despair of winter, guys in big trucks, motel sex, the easy acceptance of the ghost world. My favourite Canadian moment (aside from the smallpox ghosts hanging around watching the suburbs spreading over their farmlands) is this: "He takes a handful of snow where it has collected in a giant maple leaf and puts it in his mouth." (p105)
The Beautiful Dead End takes place in the space of a stormy Prairie weekend. It is not an easy encounter but it is a provocative one. Hutzulak doesn't stoop to formulaic genre writing even though the work leans in that direction. He doesn't offer questions — who done it? Or why? Nor does he provide answers. The cast is set in motion by bad decisions but they drift away from resolution. The book is plot driven and yet it lacks any useful story. And that seems to be its point. It is a murder novel in which the murderer is already dead, a quest in which the hero can never attain his Grail. Do not expect redemption or inspiration or much to hope for here but do expect to be affected. And if the intelligent writing is shades of things to come, Hutzulak will be one to watch. And listen to, incidentally — the novel has a soundtrack coming out Spring 2002.