I have been going through a Peter Sotos buying spree, the highlight of which was finding a used copy of Total Abuse at a near eighty dollar price. Cheap. Upon telling a friend about this find, he asked, “Why do you even read that stuff? It’s beyond sick.”
Yeah. It is. As the back copy of Total Abuse reads, “Peter Sotos is the world’s foremost practitioner of verbal brutality.” That is an understatement.
The things Sotos writes about aren’t pretty, and he doesn’t handle them with kid gloves (no pun intended). Murder, rape, pedophilia, pornography, Nazis, rough trade, self-loathing, racism and the like shouldn’t be the subjects of casual reads. Sotos, more than any other writer, rubs your face in the filth and makes sure you taste it. It is uncomfortable, to say the least. Reading his work is obviously not for the faint of heart, and nor is it for those who are easily offended. I read it because I find it inspirational, but not in the way of a budding serial killer or cowardly rapist. I find it inspirational as a writer.
When I write something, I hope to move the readers in some way. I want to horrify them, make them laugh or cry … any reaction other than one of utter boredom. Sotos does that at the most base and instinctually gut-wrenching level. Few authors (Jack Ketchum, Hubert Selby Jr., and James Ellroy come to mind) can even come close to what he has achieved. (That’s why used copies of his books command such high prices.) If my work can cause even a fraction of that sort of reaction, then I am satisfied. That’s why I read him. I want the reaction. I want the inspiration. I study the way the words flow and the images he conjures with their use and repetition upon the page (Ellroy, again, does something similar).
If all of that sounds slightly magical, that’s because it is. Reading is a magical experience. It is unlike any other artistic medium. It engages its audience in ways that few arts can. The reader is just as much a part of the art as the writer, too, and anyone who is serious about writing understands what a delicate dance the two are engaged in during that process. A lot has been written about this tango, but what needs to be remembered is that writing is also magical. In fact, it is the main ingredient in the spell because without it there would be nothing to experience. Without the writer, the reader wouldn’t exist, and that doesn’t go both ways.
Sotos, whether or not he would admit it, has an understanding of that magic and he uses it to cause the worst reactions in his readers. He knows how the words need to flow on the page (any writer of worth needs to understand that sentences, like music, must fit into the greater composition just so or run the risk of becoming disruptive). He knows what patterns to utilize. He gives just enough of himself that when the readers fill in the “blanks” they are touched in the vilest of ways. He forces his readers to create images of unspeakable crimes, and then they become complicit in them. They aren’t just merely reading about these acts. They are in the room smelling the smells and hearing the cries. Whether he puts you in the mindset of predator or prey, the end result is that you suffer. It is an amazing feat to pull off, and it is dangerous, but when it works it is sublime.
My friend was right. It is sick stuff. Beyond sick, as he said. Shouldn’t it be? Shouldn’t writing about such dark subjects be sick and disturbing? Sure, some readers will want to stay away from it for whatever reason (and they should if they have any doubts about their ability to handle it), but for the daring, for those who appreciate the magic, the experience is unlike anything you’ll ever read, and why wouldn’t you want to embrace that?
I understand Sotos isn’t for everyone. In fact, there are times I question whether or not he is even for me, but I respect him, and if I respect an artist, I engage in his or her work. It’s not always a pleasant job, but it beats reading the latest James Patterson novel, where everything is safe and you know the story before you read it. Patterson’s yarns are like a fast food breakfast for the reader’s soul. Sotos, however is not so easy to digest. It takes an investment of time and intellect that many readers will eventually regret, scarred and scared by what they have experienced. I would have it no other way.
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