"Along the Path of Torment" by Chandler Morrison
Nobody will blame you if you read the first chapter of Along the Path of Torment and quit. The subject matter is abhorrent. In fact, the entire novel is this way. Full of unrelenting acts of depravity. Enough to make you physically feel ill.
I’ve never read its equal. I can’t think of a single book as morally bankrupt that I’ve read all the way through. Thousands of thoughts raced through my brain. Mostly my conscience urging me to stop enjoying my reading experience. The return on my investment was making me feel dirty, shameful, conflicted, and manipulated. Chandler Morrison’s writing is intoxicating. I was insatiable. When I wasn’t reading it, I wanted to be.
Dozens of times I closed the book and tossed it aside with every intention of never picking it up again. But I always did. I could not stop thinking about the main protagonist, Ty Seward. What would become of him? So many questions that needed answers. Who was the Woman in Yellow haunting him anytime he was alone? What would his oncologist tell him at his next appointment? Why would anyone do the things Ty does? Who made him this way?
Equally fascinating is the fifteen-year-old aspiring actress defiled in chapter one. I formulated early opinions as to her fate, none of which I would share for the sake of spoilers, but I was totally wrong about her. She grew on me. In fact, both of the lead protagonists, despite how reprehensible they are, grew on me to the point of endearment. I literally fell in love with their disgusting, fucked up fictional lives.
I attribute all of my affection for this book to the sheer brilliance of its creator, Chandler Morrison. Truly Morrison’s mind is designed to write with the same alluring charisma that flowed through Vladimir Nabokov’s veins when he penned the objectionable classic, Lolita. People will also find themselves wanting to compare this to Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, but I reject that.
Morrison is far more talented and this book has a pulse. Morrison is capable of writing something compelling just for the sake of shock and awe, and he would find a willing audience, but that isn’t what he set out to do. It’s clear this deep dive into the depths of human depravity was an experiment to see if even sensitive readers would commit. Halfway through the book, I found myself standing at a precipice. The journey required me to jump off and I hesitated. It was at this moment that I knew how much I could endure if I trusted the author implicitly. Don’t misunderstand, I still skimmed over some scenes. My heart wouldn’t let me take in all the explicit details. I read enough to know what happened in those scenes and that’s enough for me.
Finishing this book and knowing I was going to rate it five stars is a monumental occasion in my reviewing career. All I do is read horror fiction day in and day out, so I have established healthy boundaries. I give myself permission to quit reading if anything is trespassing over a line of distinction. Horror doesn’t have limits, readers do. Talented authors ask their audience to leave everything at the threshold and enter into a contractual trust. I’ll admit: I rarely resign. I tapped out of The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum because it was the first book I read by him and I wasn’t ready. Now that I have read more of his works and authors like Andersen Prunty, C. V. Hunt, and Chandler Morrison, I have let those open doors—I bet I could finish The Girl Next Door and stand on the other side with fans. But why? What is there to gain from allowing stories like Along the Path of Torment to wander in and compromise your standards?
My answer is this: Truth is stranger than fiction. The world we live in gives rise to an ugliness that not even the most imaginative authors could conjure. If we can’t give our brains permission to wrestle fictional horrors in the comfort and safety of our homes, how will we feel when we face real-life terrors? If a reader can’t trust an author who is most likely a reasonable, sane individual just like you or me, to tell a story of human monsters, how can we reconcile living in a world that manufactures them every day? They live next door to you. They drive alongside you on the freeway. You stand in an elevator alone with them. Horrible people commit the most heinous acts every day and you don’t have to read about it. You can bury your head in the sand and pretend you’re safe. Or, you can read horror fiction and resign your sensitivities so that you can entertain monsters.
I love it. I show up to read horror fiction with the expectation to be challenged. Along the Path of Torment is deserving of all praises.
A WORD ABOUT REVIEWING EXTREME/GRAPHIC/EXPLICIT HORROR
As far as reviewing books like this, I’ve seen reviewers take a variety of approaches and none of them are wrong. Some reviewers tap out and shelve it. Nothing said. I’ve seen some reviewers mark the book as a “DNF” (Did Not Finish) and share their reading experience but not “review” it or leave a star rating. I have used this method for a few books. Still, others will quit reading an offensive book and rate/review what they finished. All reviewers, from the hobbyists to the professional and everything in between would agree that every single reader brings to the table their own style, purpose, and goals for how and why they review books.
My goal is to articulate my own, personal reading experience while also preserving the integrity of the book so as not to shame any reader’s preferences or enjoyment. I’m a firm believer that all books have an audience and my greatest joy is getting the right book in the right reader’s hands. My reviews are just a fair assessment based on opinion. I don’t see reviews as an opportunity to dissuade anyone from reading/buying a book.
Of utmost importance is the protection of a reader’s own experience, so I’m very aware of anything that could spoil story discoveries. This includes trigger warnings (which I believe could be potential spoilers). Trigger warnings are important for sensitive readers but I don’t believe warnings are a reviewer’s responsibility—I think that’s up to the author to figure out if they want to include them and how. Or the reader’s responsibility to look or ask after potential triggers.
I don’t talk about specific triggers in my reviews, generally, but I will mention if a book is especially graphic as a generic warning. I find that most book synopses include enough information for readers to make an informed choice before buying/reading, but if a reader needs detailed information, the author or publishers are really the only people who can speak to that clearly. Individual readers could forget or not see every little plot detail.
For example, the back of the book for Along the Path of Torment reads (I put telegraphed triggers in bold):
Ty Seward is a sick man. Anorexic, sexually aberrant, and haunted by a ghostly apparition residing in his closet. Living in the shadow of an in-remission cancer he fully expects to return, Ty bitterly earns his meager living by working as an assistant to his uncle, a business-and-media mogul who runs a lucrative prostitution ring catering to the Hollywood elite. When Ty’s line of work introduces him to a precocious teenage girl who seems to possess a shrewdly keen insight into his inner machinations, he is forced to confront his hidden demons and repressed trauma, embarking on a bleak and harrowing odyssey of self-discovery in the decomposing City of Angels.
There are so many potential triggers out there, I feel like trying to cover everything/all of them could easily become the primary focus of the review and too much of a responsibility.
Lastly, I emphasize my personal thoughts and opinions about the book, never the author. It’s the book that is subject to critique and the only thing a reviewer is qualified to comment on. In no way is an author’s character open for interpretation. Any speculations on an author as a person are always an attack and viewed in poor taste. I would say that the only exceptions to this would be if the author has trespassed normal author/reviewer boundaries and the reviewer feels a responsibility to address concerns about this behavior in the body of the review. Otherwise, it’s not only unnecessary but harmful and disrespectful. It’s always acceptable to dislike a book. A reviewer can even formulate judgments about or dislike the author because of a particularly strong hatred of a book and the subject matter, but those thoughts and opinions belong to the reviewer and shouldn’t be shared in public. I find that if reviewers require authors to maintain a respectful distance and not comment on negative reviews, perhaps reviewers should be held to the same standard of respect and not bait authors by personally attacking them, instigating a need for the author to defend themselves. Again, these are my opinions and I’m entitled to them.
Check out LitReactor's recent interview with Chandler Morrison.
To leave a comment