The Dark Will End the Dark by Darrin Doyle (Tortoise Books, 2015)
Darrin Doyle’s collection of stories, The Dark Will End the Dark, is sanguinary, like a George Romero film or an episode of The Walking Dead. It’s profoundly disturbing but, dare I say, fun. In almost every story, there is brutal violence or at least the threat of impending violence.
Take “Head,” for instance, a story about a claims adjuster whose head shuts down one day while the rest of his body continues to function normally – he can still walk, breathe, swing his fists, etc. There’s a moral dilemma: Do his wife and daughter continue to love this man, though the doctors say his brain is a pile of macaroni? The daughter votes yes. The wife, meanwhile, can see no vestiges of the man she married and has an affair with a young doctor, keeping her husband in the closet, where he won’t thrash around or break anything, as he’s done many times since the tragedy. Throughout the story, there is even talk of amputating the head, since it is so unsightly, turning grey and then black.
Much of the book is like this – surreal, zany. In another story, a little boy can’t stop gnawing on his mother’s foot. So she cuts it off and gives it to him. For several days, the boy drags the foot around, as though it’s a teddy bear. He tries to eat it, but his teeth aren’t sharp enough, and his jaw isn’t strong enough. Ultimately, the little boy is unable to swallow (perhaps Doyle means fathom) his mother’s sacrifice.
Then there is a story about boys who ride dirt bikes together or throw snowballs at speeding cars, depending on the season. “Barney Hester” – a small masterpiece – is about a twelve-year-old who has a falling-out with his best friend. Here, Doyle captures the feeling of being a preteen, the feeling of seeing your first topless girl, the feeling of being a kid and reading comic books on a Friday night and befriending the class reject so you’ll at least have someone to hang out with.
But, as real as it is, even “Barney Hester” has surreal elements: The narrator, Earl, recalls his childhood – all that time he spent riding bikes with his best friend, Barney – and at the beginning of the story he announces that a girl named Tanya swallowed Barney whole one day and that no one has seen or heard from the boy since. What is Doyle up to here?
Incidentally, the rich don’t interest Doyle. At least not in this collection. In “Ha-Ha, Shirt,” a trio of construction workers have sex with blow-up dolls and even sodomize each other…in some cases at gun point. No, this isn’t the Brambles in Central Park. In fact, we’re not sure what this is. What we do know is that we’re following a young father who sometimes cheats on his wife with his two drinking buddies nicknamed Ha-Ha and Shirt. Shirt’s dad has committed suicide, and throughout the story there is that threat of impending violence – will Shirt follow in his father’s footsteps?
The language in “Ha-Ha, Shirt” is raw and unrelenting. These guys are no Mormons. The narrator is especially raunchy, describing a masturbation session at one point. Everything in the story – everything in the book, really – is down at the heel. Doyle can’t be bothered with patricians or intellectuals.
Not everything about this book is dark, however. At times, Doyle melts our hearts. “Happy Turkey Day” concerns a cokehead rare-coin salesman who is estranged from his basketball-star son. At one point, the father hears his teenage son being attacked in a nearby alley. “It is the scream of a three-year-old who has crashed his bicycle into a tree,” Doyle writes, and we grab our chests.
But on the next page one character is aiming a shotgun at another character. “Blood…splatters the pavement in heavy applause,” Doyle writes. Wonderful lines like this one abound in Doyle’s collection, incidentally. In “Head,” two headless men are laying in a “blooming pool.” If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself stopping again and again to really savor the book’s poetry, of which there is an abundance.
The Dark Will End the Dark is creepy, violent, and dreamlike. And it isn’t just a trifle – even days after you’ve lent the book to a friend or added it to your bookcase, you’ll find yourself wondering about the stories’ broader meanings. You’ll find yourself ruminating, sorting through the details, trying to get to the bottom of these bizarre stories.