Friday’s Forgotten Books: Waste by Eugene Marten

Waste Eugene martinOne of the problems with the new tribalism is that something can get passed around one community and never make its way into other communities that may be interested in it. It almost seems like the word “crossover” has shrunk over the years. There’s this small band of authors, that are grouped together in my mind if no one elses, that crime fiction readers would LOVE if they knew about them. Why don’t they know about them? Because they are fairly grounded in the literary and literary small press communities. Three that come to mind are Joe Meno, Brian Evenson and Eugene Marten. Their work isn’t stylistically similar in any way but their work, in whole or in part, suggests that they are secretly crime fiction writers whether they know it or not. I’ve written about Evenson before and plan on writing about Meno later. Today I’m writing about Marten.

Waste by Eugene Marten is a 132 page novella that was published by Ellipsis Press in 2008. The publisher’s website has this tag line:

In an age of affluence, an important depiction of a member of the purported invisible class.

This suggests a pretentiousness that, quite frankly, isn’t there. In fact, I’m going to let the crime fiction community in on a little secret about Waste: it’s a wicked little psycho noir.

To the extent that there is a plot it revolves around the day to day existence of a janitor named Sloper in a high rise building. The minutia of his job almost reminds me of Night at the Lobster by Stuart O’Nan in that it is never burdensome for the reader to take in, cruising right along while remaining interesting.

Waste is one of those books that tolls the iron bell, a strong sense of foreboding murmurs right below the surface. You sit there waiting for the other foot to drop and you’re not disappointed when it does.

Early on in the book, when we’ve been lulled into its rhythms, we get a little jar from the book, almost like a reminder to pay attention. A female office worker, one who Sloper has had some fantasies about, leaves her desk:

“When she was gone he jerked off in her shoes and cleaned them out with germicidal foam. You could use it on anything but woodwork”

The short burst prose is understated in a way that is perfectly suited for this type of story and while Sloper will remind many of Meursault, the narrator of The Stranger, it’s important to remember my psycho noir assertion from above.

For a book that is decidedly lacking in plot the central reveal has to be withheld from reviews because its best felt by the first time reader, without any indicators except the feeling of unease that permeates the book. You might be reading this review thinking that you know what that reveal is but trust me you don’t. It’s much more brutal then that, catering to a baser instinct that makes the eyes go wide. And if you do trust me, then check out Waste by Eugene Marten.

By the end of the book it’s almost cruising on disconnected impressions so it’s not as grounded as some readers may like but it never sails in to the unreadable category. What this ending does do very well is underscore the understated insanity that came before.

The bottom line is that Waste is a mean serving of dark fiction.

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Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

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3 comments

  1. I would include Bonnie Jo Campbell here. An article on this would be great. Sometimes I yearn for the finely tuned words and deeper arc of a literary writer combined with the excitement of the plot and pacing of a crime fiction writer.

  2. Well…not all self-tabbed CF writers are poor wordsmiths, either, nor all contemporary mimetic writers that good this way…Sheila Kohler, till she followed Joyce Carol Oates over to EQMM, was another in this pocket. If anything, it seems the BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES might be mining these folks to a fault, but it certainly doesn’t catch them all.

  3. I remember you mentioning Bonnie Jo Campbell over at Big Adios (I think). Haven’t had a chance to check her out yet but plan on it.

    I won’t try to pinpoint the differences only to acknowledge that they are there. Clearly there is something known as literary and something know as crime. Crime fiction that is approached from a different grounding (like literary but really anything) just has a different feel to it. Crime fiction, like any fiction, has a more common set of paradigms and approaches and lately I’ve been looking for the ones that are under different paradigms and offer different approaches (big article in this vein being worked on).

    All I know is that there are writers and books in other communities that the crime community would like and this is the forum I choose to talk about them.

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