By Chris Kelso
Publisher: Crowded Quarantine Publications
Pub. Date: June 11, 2016
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Unger House Radicals starts with an Andy Warhol quote and a glimpse of the first narrator watching Andy Warhol's 8 hour film titled Sleep. Warhol was the poster boy for turning banality into art and The Factory was far from the idealist art community that many pretended it was. Mary Woronov popped that bubble in her memoir of negativity, nihilism, and drug use titled Swimming Underground: My Years in the Warhol Factory. Chris Kelso's strange and fragmented novel has its own art movement. creators and creative art house and, while thankfully entirely fictional, feels like a bit of a dark satire of the power of movements and the corruption of art.
In Unger House Radicals film maker Vincent Bittaker meets Brandon Swarthy, a serial killer. It's love at first killing. The two plot their own film movement and moves into the murder house of the serial killer Otto Spengler. Unger House becomes a focal point for the movement dubbed Ultra-realism in which Bittaker and Swarthy film murders as a testament to the ultimate and most realistic art. "What is more real than murder?" Swarthy asks. For the first part of the novel we follow their quest and relationship that takes strange sexual and psychological turns and plunges into the surreal.
But it doesn't end there. Ultra-realism catches on. The author continues the narration in the eyes of other participants and even critics as the movement becomes a cult and an equally disturbing counter revolution called The Last True Hope (Please do not let that be a Star Wars reference!) emerges. The narration is non-linear and very bizarre to the point of wondering if we entered another dimension only known to the author. This is one of those books which challenges the reader even if the writing flows like a sumofabitch through your veins as you read it. I'm not always sure I followed it but the emotional prose and the several philosophical tones that is batted back and forth never got lost in the shuffle.
Murder as art is one of those things that has become a clique in the barrage of mainstream serial killer novels flooding the market but they never go beyond the sensational. Vincenzo Bilof's The Violators and now, Unger Street Radicals show the the clique can go beyond the sensational and may reveal philosophical overtones that makes one thinks even if that thinking may feel somewhat uncomfortable. The violence and brutality may still be there but so is the examination of what is reality and how far is far enough. In Kelso's challenging and sometimes maddening book, we get a tome on the meaning , and meaningless, of movements. We examine if art can go beyond the boundaries of civilization and whether it should. But mainly we get a exhilarating and confusing ride. I have another Kelso novel to read and this one really whetted my appetite for more. A warning though. The Kelso universe may be very forbidding to some and should bear a label, "read at your own risk." But if you wish to take the risk you may be amazed and intrigued at what you read.