There are at least three Brian Evensons, all of them EXCEEDINGLY IMPROBABLE. First, there’s Brian Evenson, the prolific author of crisp, often disturbing novels and short stories, whose first collection Altmann’s Tongue famously scandalised his employers at Brigham Young University and led to his resignation from the Mormon Church. Then there’s B. K. Evenson, the sci-fi novelist behind books set in the Aliens and Dead Space universes and co-writer of the novelisation of Rob Zombie’s film The Lords of Salem. Finally, there’s Brian Evenson, the translator of prestigious French fiction, including the charming and deeply strange novella In the Time of the Blue Ball, a book ascribed to Manuela Draeger, who does not exist. It might seem like an uphill struggle for any book of ‘weird fiction’ to improve on the weird facts, but Evenson manages it with novels like Last Days, about a one-handed detective who becomes a prophet to an amputation cult, and stories like ‘Any Corpse,’ which opens with the line ‘When she awoke, a shower of raw flesh had fallen in the field.’ This is not to suggest that Evenson’s work is at all unworldly: his 2008 novel The Open Curtain revisits the dark history of the LDS Church, while the horror permeating his short stories owes less to Lovecraftian beasties and more to the combination of an abiding uncertainty and the author’s lucid prose.
Lately, all these Evensons seem to be operating in uneasy equilibrium. The stories that comprise A Collapse of Horses – published by Coffee House Press along with reissues of three of his novels – venture into increasingly dark, even apocalyptic, terrain while maintaining a narrative control that owes at least as much to the experimental spirit of the Oulipo as to the usual suspects of American weird (Poe, Bowles, Burroughs). The narrator of his latest novella, The Warren, forthcoming from Tor.com in September, may or may not be human, and leaves a place of relative safety to explore a mysterious, devastated landscape where identity itself is on the line. As usual, Evenson persistently disarms his readers even as his fans recognise the crystallisation of his imitable voice along with trademarks like his odd choice of character names (a random sampling of which includes Horak, Orvar, Karsten, Sugg, Qatik and Qanik).
Evenson and I have both served as editors for the literary journal Conjunctions and have known each other in several capacities over the years, but I particularly recall a visit to his home in Providence when he was teaching at Brown (a post he held for 13 years). I was struck by Evenson’s prodigious work ethic, which seemed devoted to preserving his stories beyond the least affect, and also his wide collection of Bauhaus side- and solo-projects. Now working at CalArts, I called him at nine his time, midnight mine, after he put his young son to bed and we were free to dig into late night conversation pieces like solipsism, disembodied heartbeats, religious apostasy, and the unspeakable.