Hand’s clever novel begins with the harsh realities of the ‘70’s Punk movement and the history of an edgy, disaffected photographer whose favorite subjects are found in dingy bars and back alleys: decimated corpses with needle marks puncturing their translucent flesh.
Thirty years later, Cass “Scary” Neary reclaims the vague promises of her early days and her moth-to-flame attraction to death scenes, a short career that was as fleeting as an injected high, her youthful ambitions long since settled into predictability: “Punk’s ugly little glittering perfect moment had ended. And so had mine.”
It’s hard to imagine that Cass’s life could become any more macabre, the woman already damaged from the trauma of sudden violence that has scarred her already-fragile psyche: “It’s always 4 a.m. beneath a broken streetlamp.” Driven by dark visions of life slipping into death, Cass is no stranger to extremes, a Punk connoisseur who hovers at the edge of self-destruction.
Thirty years later, still living that tortured, fragmented life, Cass admits she has entered the territory of the has-been. What was once so seductive - the drugs, the nihilist music scene, the poverty that fuels her bizarre creativity - has become tiresome, banal.
When an occasional business associate offers an interview with a former photographic icon, Aphrodite Kamestos, Cass cannot resist the opportunity to stand close to genius, trekking from New York City to the unwelcoming shore of Maine’s Paswegas Island, where the reclusive Aphrodite lives.
Belatedly realizing she has been set up, Cass gives into a years-long craving to view Aphrodite’s seminal work. Prickly and argumentative, Aphrodite resists, enraged at one more effort to intrude into her wounded soul. As events spiral out of control, Cass is unable to resist her usual self-centered demands for truth at any cost, accidentally uncovering a horror that has blossomed in isolation, a madman’s paradise as terrifying as it is exhilarating.
Buoyed by stolen drugs and insatiable curiosity, Cass steps into a nightmarish scenario, a mystery that she cannot turn away from, nearly at the cost of her own life. Coming to terms with wasted years in pursuit of an elusive ambition, the primitive surroundings propel the photographer beyond her expectations, beyond the borders of reality into a darker realism, where death covets unsuspecting victims.
Edgy, dark, laced with expletives and anguish, this is a remarkable story by an author who refuses to shirk from her vision. An unusual, often disturbing protagonist is as fascinating as she is repellant.