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A user’s guide to Brian Evenson, a writer you should know

During the first week of April, a book that originated as Twilight fan fiction was released by Random House. It was called Fifty Shades of Grey. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. If not, it’s supposedly a fascinating novel all about … oh, hell, you know what it’s about. You read it. And even if you didn’t, it’s now such a part of our collective DNA that in the future all mammals will be born with an innate knowledge of its every implausible plot point and bit of light S&M. Seven days after Fifty Shades of Grey was released, Brian Evenson’s latest novel, Immobility, came out. It was not originally Twilight fan fiction. It has not become a user-manual for housewives interested in doing a little role-playing. It has not sold more than 20 million copies and isn’t singlehandedly saving Barnes & Noble from going the way of the dodo and Borders. And that’s a shame. Because Brian Evenson is one of those writers who is painfully under-read and thus underappreciated.

Immobility is a postapocalyptic mashup of horror, noir and Philip K. Dick’s darkest visions of the future (along with a not-so-inconspicuous examination and excoriation of the Mormon faith, which Evenson has routinely scrutinized in his fiction subsequent to leaving the Church). The novel centers on a mostly paralyzed man named Josef who awakens from a kind of stasis 30 years after a nuclear cataclysm in a bombed-out Salt Lake City and is sent on a mission to save a dying community. The resulting novel is far more complex than that — it has shades of both The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and The Road by Cormac McCarthy in its examination of both faith and society, but also the limits man will go to survive — but then Evenson has always been the kind of writer who challenges the reader to question what reality truly consists of.

But Immobility is just the tip of the spear. Thus, for the uninitiated, a brief user’s guide to the world of Brian Evenson:

• He wrote perhaps the only story, ever, about a woman who has a one-night stand with a mime. The story is called “Invisible Box” and it’s in Evenson’s excellent collection Fugue State. Turns out, you don’t want to have sex with a mime. Ever.

• Evenson’s break from the Mormon church included a controversial incident in 1994 when a student at BYU, where Evenson taught at the time, complained that Evenson’s story collection Altmann’s Tongue promoted “incest and cannibalism” and was “the opposite of what a Mormon should write.”

• He’s frighteningly prolific. Since 1994, he’s published 19 books, including three in 2012 alone: Immobility, a new collection of stories entitled Windeye and, most recently, a new novel in the Dead Space game universe, which he writes under the pen name B.K. Evenson.

• If Brian Evenson were a band, he’d be an indie darling: He’s published the majority of his books on small presses like Coffee House, Astrophil and Fiction Collective … which means Fifty Shades of Grey probably sold more books in the time it took you to read this sentence than Evenson has ever had printed. That means every time you read one of his books, you’re actually helping keep literature alive in this country. (See the above note in re: the dodo and Borders.)

• His novel Last Days, a black-comic-horror-noir, this time about a one-handed detective investigating a murder inside an underground religious cult (you might be sensing a theme here … Evenson talks a lot about religion … and people end up losing body parts, or at least their use, on a somewhat frequent basis), includes an introduction from horror master Peter Straub, which praises Evenson’s “unflinching oddness, morbidity and perversity.” In our eyes, but perhaps not in the eyes of some students at BYU in 1994, those are the very traits we admire in fiction and why writers like Evenson are so important: He takes huge risks and pays them off, political correctness be damned.

IMMOBILITY, Brian Evenson, Tor Books, 256 pages