Finger's Breadth by M. Christian
Zumaya Publications LLC, 2011
Most men are within a finger's breadth of being mad. - Diogenes
A lunatic is loose in San Francisco, seducing gay men, drugging them, then slicing off the tip of one of their fingers at the first joint. At first, terror grips the city. Bars and clubs catering to the gay community close; no one dares venture out at night, for fear of encountering the Cutter. A chance hook-up with an attractive stranger could make you the next victim.
As time goes on, though, and more men join the ranks of those with nine-and-half-fingers, the mood shifts. Fear morphs into a sort of desperate heat. New venues open, more vibrant and raw than ever. Men with all their fingers intact become objects of suspicion – perhaps they are the one responsible for the plague of mutilation. The gay community develops new rituals to deal with the horror. But who is the Cutter, and why does he pursue his macabre crusade?
In Finger's Breadth, M. Christian has created a creepy and compelling narrative that, like so much of his work, defies categorization. The book offers elements of horror, erotica, science fiction and social commentary. Christian's San Francisco is recognizable but weirdly skewed from the real city. Its dark streets are haunted by free-lance cops and merciless predators, newly-outed kids fresh from the boonies and jaded veterans of a thousand blow jobs.
There's no single hero. The novel proceeds as a series of vignettes, views of the world through the eyes of various men affected by the explosion of violence. Snippets from newspapers and radio programs move the plot forward. Each character holds a piece of the truth without necessarily being aware of that fact. By the end, the reader has a pretty clear idea of what's going on, but Christian never actually comes right out and explains.
M. Christian understands the dynamics of fear as well as the fascination of extremes. He transcribes chilling Internet chat sessions, between a man who might or might not be the Cutter, and a man who longs to be.
TRANCHERMAN191: I'll only ask one more time. Why do you hope it's me?
CONRADICAL02: i don't know!
TRANCHERMAN191: You do know. You just won't say it.
CONRADICAL02: i want more. i want something different. Is that why you do it?
TRANCHERMAN191: Answer my question or stop bothering me.
CONRADICAL02: i want something different. i want 2 do what you do.
CONRADICAL02: i want it to mean something. Sex, i mean. Or something like that. It doesnt do anything. Its fun. But it doesnt last. It's what everyone else does. Its not special. i like it, but i mean, its like what everyone else does. Is that what you mean?
TRANCHERMAN191: Go on.
CONRADICAL02: i dont know. Fuck. Its not enough. ive done it all kinds of ways but its not...it doesn't stay. Thats not right. Fuck, i dont know. i want to feel more. i want to be more. i dont want just tricks. i want risky. i want to do more than fuck and suck. i want to feel real big real powerful. Nasty. i want to be different like you.
TRANCHERMAN191: You don't know anything about me.
Finger's Breadth is simultaneously terrifying and arousing. M. Christian has tapped into the subterranean founts of desire, where the primal urges - lust, anger, fear, hunger - flow together. At the same time, the book dwells on more existential issue - the need for meaning and recognition, the urge to belong to a tribe. Like his previous work, the controversial novel Me 2, this book considers how far one might go today in order to fit in.
If you're looking for an easy, sunny, sexy book with a happy ending, don't pick up Finger's Breadth. If, on the other hand, you want a scary but enlightening ride through the twisted labyrinth of the human psyche, I highly recommend this book.