Wrath James White and Monica J. O’Rourke, Poisoning Eros (Deadite Press, 2003)
For ten years, Poisoning Eros was one of the most infamous—and hard to get hold of—books in underground horror. I came across a lot of people who claimed to have read one of the witheringly limited editions in which it was released, first in 2003, then again in 2011, and all of them sang the book’s praises, but I never so much as smelled one until Deadite Press finally put out a reasonably-priced trade edition in 2013, presumably to mark the book’s tenth anniversary. With all that build-up, I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I will say this: any tale that starts off with barnyard porn and then gets more offensive is pretty much a guaranteed winner, for my money.
Plot: Gloria is a washed-up porn star whose chose her drug addiction over her family. When the drugs started interfering with her career, she rode the downward spiral as long as she could, to the point where, when we open, we’re presented with the scene mentioned in the opening paragraph. (It is not the only one of its type in the first half of the book, so be warned. Or be titillated. I won’t judge.) Suffice to say that, through a number of agencies both internal and external, Gloria comes to a bad end and finds herself in Hell, which is, well, about what you would expect. Gloria, however, had a very rough life, and the torments of Hell are just another tribulation to be endured—and it turns out that her old skills may come in handy even in the afterlife. All the old stories, after all, tell us that demons are exceptionally fond of negotiation…
There’s a part of me that wants to dismiss Poisoning Eros for what is, at its black little heart, a pretty standard morality play with a lot of added shock value. That said, there are two very strong related points in its favor. The first is that, once you’ve gotten past the opening scene and you start seeing where the pieces in this puzzle fit, it becomes obvious that neither White nor O’Rourke was in this to do shock for shock’s sake. There’s a reason for all of the depraved, degenerate, disgusting stuff that goes on, even if (as with the opening scene) that reason is not immediately apparent; the fact that nothing in this book is gratuitous, especially given that it does in fact live up to its reputation, is pretty huge. And then there’s the closing scene, about which I can say absolutely nothing without giving the entire game away. But if you’re going to go with a traditional Judeo-Christian value set for your framework, you’ve gotta do something pretty explosive to get my attention. That last scene…does.
On the other hand, that last scene is ridiculously short. They could have easily played it for an entire third chapter and I would have fallen right in line. It would have fit (at least I think it would have fit) with the book we got; it would certainly have been consistent with both Gloria’s character and White and O’Rourke’s finely-honed senses of the ironic. But there I go again bitching about things I didn’t get that would have made a book better rather than criticizing the book I have in front of me. But let’s face it—all the horrors to be found here are of absence, on the meta level. I am unsure whether White and O’Rourke succeeded in telling the tale they wanted to tell; no one will know that but them. But they succeeded in telling a tale, and telling a very good one. While this is a very personal thing and YMMV (and probably will), I found it one of those books that Stephen King calls “go for the gross-out”, rather than having the sort of profoundly disturbing atmosphere of something like Charlee Jacob’s Haunter, but that makes it not one iota less worth reading. Pick it up, now that you easily can, and strap yourself in—turbulence is expected on this flight. *** ½