The last time Ben and Lois Devine saw Veronica Glass, the noted mutilation artist, was at a suicide party in Cerulean Cliffs, an artist’s colony far beyond their means.
If you’re unfamiliar with artist/writer gatherings, the good ones usually include loads of booze, that one über-pretentious person, personal crises and looming entropy. This is all captured in Dale Bailey’s novelette/short story, “The End of the End of Everything.”
Ben and Lois Devine are invited by their close friend to an artists’ colony during the summertime. Ben is a poet, who readily admits that he is mediocre, but squeaks by doing the MFA circuit. He’s had a few publications, but doesn’t expect people to know him or his work.
They are unaware that the daily evening parties are actually suicide parties where guests mingle at a Gatsbyesque grotesque soiree not short on small talk, overly long readings of writers’ works, and finally, with the suicide of one of the guests. Their deaths are quite brutal, but somehow Dale Bailey has made them a work of art that exceeds their own assumed pedestrian output. The idea of art for art’s sake is repeated throughout, a rhetorical device that becomes even more realized when Ben meets the “mutilation artist,” Veronica Glass (her name, alone, invokes an image of an unreal and severe individual).
Anytime she bumps into him, Veronica continues to ask Ben how he will end his life. The poet is reluctant to the whole idea, even with the impending “ruin” that seems to be swallowing up the world around them. The term is used to elicit images of a battered world, but also to isolate the artists’ colony even more. Every day, ruin seems to roll closer, dispatching anyone who goes into it. The world feels suffocated. It’s almost as if the colony, which is aptly named Cerulean Cliffs, hangs on the edge of where earth meets the sky with any wrong misstep sending you over and into the abyss.
Somehow Bailey is able to write a story that feels more like a painting. The entire time, I felt like I was staring closely at a canvas, observing the individual brushstrokes and captivated at how they appear like textured expressions making up a whole. Even when Ben sees in person the type of art Veronica Glass creates, I couldn’t look away even though imagining it reminded me of all the layers of my own skin and the complicated system that lies beneath.
This is one of those stories that I hope to come back to again, so I can take in the rich and destructive world Dale Bailey has created. Part of me would like to see this as a novel, but I wonder if in doing so would negate the overwhelming feeling of anxiety and the richness of this grotesque situation.
“The End of the End of Everything” is available for free on Tor.com and can also be acquired as an e-book for .99 cents. As always, I am delighted by the publisher’s chosen artwork. Perhaps, it is odd of me to say that I want a blown up version of it, because of the subject matter, but New York-based Hong Kong artist Victo Ngai’s cover art is phenomenal.