Review: Every Shallow Cut, by Tom Piccirilli

>>Published: March 2011

>>Finally got around to it: April 2011

Yes, Officer High School Security Guard, I’d like to report a crime. Go inside and find my guidance counsellor, grab him by the collar and shake him until his back molars crack to pieces. Rap him upside the head with a dictionary. Tell him he shouldn’t perpetuate the fallacy that we can all be whatever we want to be. That all we have to do is to achieve it is want something badly enough and work diligently enough. Spray his eyes and watch him flail screaming across his desk. Tell him to find a new line of work. Tell him there are a lot of others coming up behind me who’ll be visiting him soon. Tell him an army of his former victims is marching across the face of the earth at this very moment. Tell him I’ll soon be back with a different face and a different dog in a different car, but it will be me, and I’ll still have a gun in my pocket. And the next time I might just draw it, and the next time I might just pull the trigger. Yes, I want to report a crime. Someone is being murdered.

***

There are varying degrees to social despondency. There’s the frustration that too many people lie and cheat their way through life, the consequences never seeming to catch up with them; there are those that feel life has not given them a fair hand, and they’re forever begging/praying/soul-selling their first borns for another chance; there are the men and women, all ages, all levels of success, who fear with never ending certainty the knife they know will one day stab them in the back.

Then there’s the narrator of Tom Piccirilli’s Every Shallow Cut.

This man hates every square inch of the world. His mind is an unfiltered, self-destructive vortex of antagonistic, murderous, spiteful thoughts. He’s been crushed by the world, by having his dreams slowly recede until they’re limping to the grave with little hope of a last-minute reprieve.

Piccirilli’s novella—clocking in at a slim 162 pages—relies on the spiralling momentum of its protagonist’s mind as he plummets deeper and deeper into a self-loathing so severe that takes on a life of its own. The unnamed narrator has nothing—he’s lost his wife, his possessions, and his career as a writer has been in steady decline, each book selling fewer than the last. He’s a forgotten integer and can see no way to climb out of the abyss. All he does have is his bulldog Churchill, a car, a gun, and a lot of demons he chooses to address like a man sentenced to die at the gallows, confessing his sins and the sins others have inflicted upon him all the same.

And hating the world—and himself—for being in this position.

Reading like a vertical slice of a noir married with a certain degree of distorted self-reflection, Every Shallow Cut is at times an unpleasant experience, but never one I wish I hadn’t taken. Piccirilli’s narrator is the author’s dark half rising to the surface, unchained and naked for all the world to see. Outside of being a simple narrative device that allows the reader to easily place themselves within the mind of the narrator, the namelessness of Piccirilli’s antihero could be read as being overtly tied to the author, their names one and the same, or it could be interpreted as one more thing that’s been taken from him—his identity along with all purpose and will to survive.

Hate is something none of us are without. The vitriol on each page of Piccirilli’s novella, while startling and sometimes overwhelming, is also healthy. On one hand the narrator has lost everything he had ever lived for; on the other hand, over the course of the book he is confronting and shouting honestly at everything he’s ever been dissatisfied with. There’s no point in holding back anymore. Everything is going to come out because everything has to come out. The gun in his possession is the arbiter of truth in this case—it’s his final judgement, having divulged the unhappiness that runs through him, and it’s what will help him to decide, when all is said and done, what singular action he takes from here on out: to move forward in this life or the next.

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