Read Frank Bill’s The Savage, The Most Metal Novel of 2017
2017’s most metal book printed on a sheet of pressed wood fibers is without a doubt Hellraisers: A Complete Visual History of Heavy Metal Mayhem. Full of brilliant insight, nuanced taste, and blasphemic brutality, Hellraisers is the kind of book that makes you wonder what assholes like Dante, Kipling, and Cheever were thinking when they put pen to page and wrote their tales devoid of references to Entombed.
That said, if fiction is your game and you consider yourself a metalhead, the book to read in 2017 is The Savage, the latest novel by master of rural noir Frank Bill. As bleak and unhinged as it is inspiring and well written, The Savage exudes all the things that make metal special: urgency, vitality, grandiosity, and more blood than a twelve ambulance pile-up.
The Savage is the story of America gone mad, where the flimsy structure of civilization has given way to the law of the jungle. The dollar has bottomed out, and with money no longer worth the paper and copper on which it’s printed the working class and seedy underbelly of Southern Indiana find themselves in a ruthless orgy of indulgence and survival. The story follows Van Dorn, a survivalist raised by a lout father who saw the oncoming horrors of society unraveled, as he navigates a washed-out labyrinth of cannibals, pentecostal madmen, and a ruthless gang of territorial savages led by the revenge-drunk spawn of Guatemalan guerilla warfare Cotto Ramos.
Much of the metal behind The Savage comes simply from what occurs between its covers; within the first 100 pages of the book, people are shot dead, burned alive, butchered for meat, broken with hammers, and gutted (and from then on, it only gets worse). But perhaps more metal than that is Bill’s language and tone. The Savage reads like a book of the Old Testament written by Mark Twain, its tales of old world violence and sacrifice woven in the wording and cadence of the Antebellum south. The resulting narrative is made even more scathing by the sometimes-flowery but devourable language in which it’s spun.
If you’re unfamiliar with Bill’s work, you should also check out his novel Donnybrook, which tells the tale of several unholy human monsters descending on the greatest bare-knuckle tournament of all time, and his short story collection Crimes in Southern Indiana, which is a series of backwoods vignettes that would make the dudes in Cannibal Corpse blow chunks. But while these pieces of literature are fantastic and vital, they do not possess the scope and power of The Savage, which throws us headfirst into Frank Bill’s world, in which we are only surviving (or dying in mortal agony with our thumbs fed to us by rabid psychopaths).
You can order The Savage right here, and keep up with Frank Bill on his Twitter. For nonfiction fans, Hellraisers can be ordered right here. Though for the record, if you’re some kind of fucking wimp, you might want to avoid both and stick to Eat Pray Love.