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Craig Wallwork

Craig Wallwork is the author of the delightfully off kilter collection, Quintessence of Dust, as well as the novels To Die Upon a Kiss, and The Sound of Loneliness. He lives in West Yorkshire, England with his wife, daughter, and two chickens.

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"There is a duality to Craig Wallwork's fiction that fluctuate between bizarro fiction and magic realism. . . . Wallwork's potential for magic realism is unlimited."

– Caleb J. Ross

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To Die Upon a Kiss

A Violently Hypnotic Story Covered in a Lipstick of Decay

08/05/13

Sadler Truman is dying in Craig Wallwork’s To Die Upon a Kiss, a stylish noir wracked from beginning to end by beautiful prose and multifaceted characters. Multifaceted, as in at war with themselves, both desperately morbid and exultant. Truman is convinced his death is imminent because no one in his family has survived past the age of thirty, victim to Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndrome. To help him come to terms with his mortality, his girlfriend, Prudence, suggests they undertake a series of murders.

This book is not for the squeamish and gets descriptively bloody in the deaths. Details abound, as in the two making up fake identities to help detach themselves from the victims, or the meticulous methodology they apply in executing the killings. The ritual takes on a disturbing skew when Prudence gets aroused by the killing. Both the killer and the victim “struggle for equal breaths, eyelids trembling in unison, both whispering similar noises, poles apart in life and death, yet both so alike at the moment it’s hard to differentiate between those caught on the threshold of death, and those getting off.”

Wallwork claws his scenes to life and the mundane is rendered in throbbingly visceral discomfort. Take his job as a censor at a photography laboratory for which he is given no guidelines or regulations. After he lets pass a set of photos he shouldn’t have, his boss flails him with the instructions:

Flaccid cocks only. And a woman’s vagina can’t be parted. Tits and closed piss flaps are fine. Understand?”

Sexuality gets a shade of the macabre and sensuality gets no censor, particularly as Truman is just as obsessed with pleasure as he is with his fear of dying from overly-exciting his heart. Literally and physically, he has to restrain his lust:

If only to inoculate the infection of love before it renders me sick.

His gnawing obsession with death shreds itself on an altar of tattered memories connected to his mother, Verity. Verity is a bad mother and she even puts it out in the open when Prudence visits with Truman: “I’m sure my son has made it clear how terrible a mother I’ve been. How I lied about his daddy, and the poor unfortunate situation he’s now in because of it.” As Verity continues to taunt him, he is consumed by a paroxysm of rage and when he reacts violently towards her, it’s clear Truman’s corruption has gone past the physical, festering beyond an attempt at empathy with the dying. The situation with his mother intensifies as Prudence prods him with questions he can neither deflect nor deny. Even his reflection scares him:

A ghostly apparition in a cabinet mirror grips my throat. At best, I look five days away from having every orifice in my body filled with cotton wadding. Put me in a surgical gown while asleep, and I would awake with veins pierced with plastic tubes; bags of embalming fluid feeding each. Foundation cream would do shit for my complexion right now.

Similar to Othello, from which the title gets its name, misunderstandings abound and spiral into a canvas of bloody murder. Like Shakespeare’s play, the characters may not necessarily be likable, but they are scarily authentic, even while astray, social vagabonds wading in anger at their wasted lives. Truman’s bitterness permeates the pages, but so does a longing for affirmation, for purpose in the meaninglessness. It’s a fine balance that Wallwork deftly juggles and though Truman tries to find an anchor in Prudence, she is just as adrift, a hurricane swarming in another stratosphere. In that sense, To Die Upon a Kiss is as much about living as it is about dying.

. . . for those I sit beside, waiting and watching for the last glimmer of life to abandon each eye, the prospect of a long life is more depressing than living it. If only we could exchange bodies. If only for a few extra years, I would happily endure the noisy neighbors and feeling of loss.

A pile of corpses lie in his wake. Truths are splintered. Even as Truman dispels misconceptions he’d held onto, the melting blur of fear and hate siphon off one another into a titular kiss. Craig Wallwork weaves a violently hypnotic story covered in a lipstick of decay, presaging a conjunction doused in strange love.

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1 Comment

  1. Jordan Blum said on 08/10/13 at 1:40 pm Reply

    Hey Peter,

    Great description in the first paragraph, and overall you give just enough details and examples to entice without actually spoiling anything. It sounds very interesting; right up my ally.

    Reply

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