The Dregs Trilogy by Chris Kelso
Black Shuck Books, p/b, £15.99
Reviewed by Dave Jeffery
Some books are not so much about escapism but the experience they bring to the reader. Equally, some books are so much more than their individual parts. To unpick a piece of work such as Chris Kelso’s THE DREGS TRILOGY, breaking it down into components for analysis and review, is so out of keeping with the transgressive message of the book, there is a fear of diluting the artistry the writer puts on show. Better, then, to talk about it as one existential whole.
Kelso chronicles the deranged exploits of a core group of dysfunctional characters, their spurious exploits of child abuse, serial killings and their warped circle of life, driven by a grand design of nihilism, under the auspices of a movement known as the Ultra-Realists. The group’s philosophy has the downfall of humanity in the name of heinous, cosmic forces as its fundamental aim. Real or perceived, the characters are fused with events past and present, and cosmic futures, their roles blurred and profane; the philosophies, a scattergun loaded with Nietzsche, Jung and avant-garde existential destruction.
The story is told from the true perspective of each character, their own belief systems, their own interpretations of the world and its issues and saviours. It appears at once deliciously fragmented and contradictory yet, as often cited by its dysfunctional cast, there is a sense of order in the chaos, hinting at the scale of creative control Kelso has at his disposal.
The existential journey of a book like THE DREGS TRILOGY is consistent with its content. The three novellas (SHRAPNEL APARTMENTS, UNGER HOUSE RADICALS & RITUAL AMERICA) were written out of sequence, at different points in time, and placed out of order so that the reader is at odds with the chronology of events, how the characters relate, and how they have come to be.
Be it content or the fractured nature of the narrative, THE DREGS TRILOGY is a tough read, a challenging read. It will not be a book to everyone’s taste, but that is a core aspect of the narrative. Moral and socio-political tenets define us, and it is these frameworks that Ultra-Realism seeks to destroy with their vile edicts, as each member gives wanton acquiescence to cosmic, transgressive beings determined to fracture mankind using degenerate members of society as its weapon of choice. Seemingly mindless acts of violence and ritual abuse are the small charges used to blow holes and ultimately bring down the mighty structure of human existence, tiny depraved acts undermining the bedrock, eroding humanity’s faith until hope dies on the operating table.
There is an intelligence at work here that transcends contemporary horror fiction. This is how it would be if Chuck Palahniuk did horror, a battle-scarred landmark that will stand the test of time.
Using a transgressive anatomy of existentialism, surrealism, post-modernism, bizarro and punk, Kelso has created a Frankenstein’s monster of a book, a portent for humanity, filled with horror and beauty and contradiction. And, just like Shelly’s Modern Day Prometheus, the world is a better, wiser place for it.