With a resume that includes such titles as Drawing Blood and Swamp Foetus, the 29-year-old Poppy Z. Brite is a rising star in the world of horror fiction. However, Exquisite Corpse is the first of her books to be issued by a mainstream trade publisher. Has the author softened her approach in hopes of winning a wider audience? Not for a single blood-spattered page.
The protagonists of Exquisite Corpse are Andrew Compton, an English serial killer, and Jay Byrne, an American serial killer with an impressive collection of pickled and frozen corpses in his backyard. Not surprisingly, their activities make for plenty of throat-slitting, disembowelment and necrophilia. Cannibalism, too, gets its due, particularly when Jay feels like snacking: "He sank his teeth into flesh that had gone the consistency of firm pudding. He ripped at the edges of the wound, pulling off strips of skin and meat, swallowing them whole, smearing his face with his own saliva and what little juice remained in this chill tissue."
There is, to be fair, an unmistakable intelligence at work here, and a grisly sense of rightness when these two killing machines meet in a New Orleans gay bar and fall in love. But the unrelenting gore grows monotonous, and Brite seems deaf to the black-comic undertones of what she's doing. Instead she's drawn to the earnest and aesthetic side of serial murder -- there may be human viscera on display everywhere, but the book itself is oddly heartless. -- Salon
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Blood-soaked sheets, cannibalism, rotting, half-dissected corpses: this gruesome psychological horror novel has all the grue a reader mightor might not want. Brite (Drawing Blood, 1993), the reigning queen of Generation-X splatterpunks, pulls out the stops in this ghastly tale of two serial killers who find true love over the body of a murdered and mutilated boy in the historic French Quarter of New Orleans. Londoner Andrew Compton, imprisoned for the necrophiliac slayings of 23 young men, escapes from prison by (rather unbelievably) faking his own death and killing the coroners gathered to autopsy his body. Fleeing to Louisiana, he hooks up with Jay Byrne, slacker scion of a wealthy old family, a man whose murders are even more fiendish than Compton's own. Brite is a highly competent stylist with a knack for depicting convincing, if monstrous, characters. Her plot development rests too heavily on coincidence, however, and on an excess of details drawn from the life of real-world serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer. Though Brite shifts point of view throughout, she always returns to Compton's first person. This technique gives the narrative rhythm and emotional force but also seems aimed toward intimating the reader in Compton's acts of dehumanization ("the aesthetics of dismemberment") and depravity. And so what Brite really presents here is, ultimately, yet another crimson leaf in the literature of the pornography of violence. (Aug.)
Acclaimed horror writer Brite (Drawing Blood, LJ 10/1/93) has never been one to mince words, but even the most hardened among us will cringe when reading this latest, which easily surpasses Brett Easton Ellis's American Psycho on the gore-o-meter. English serial killer Andrew Compton, who killed 23 boys before being caught, escapes from prison and makes his way to Louisiana, where he inadvertently teams up with another fellow who shares his appetite for dismemberment and necrophilia. Young Tran, a gay Louisiana teen who is evicted by his Vietnamese father, foolishly proffers himself to our vicious pair. Tran's only hope for surviving the encounter with all limbs intact is his ex-lover Luke, a tough but AIDS-weakened writer who rants about heterosexual America on a pirate radio station, using the name "Lush Rimbaugh." All in all, Exquisite Corpse is a rub-it-in-your face novel that is all the more terrifying because of its author's razor-sharp prose. Purchase wherever Brite has a following.Mark Annichiarico, "Library Journal"
Poppy Z. Brite is the mistress of the gruesome but unforgettable image.
The Times Picayune (New Orleans)
From the Publisher
Peter Straub Author of The Hellfire Club As perfectly named as its author, Exquisite Corpse treats the dead human body like a communion wafer. It is Poppy Z. Brite's distinction to have understood immediately that real horror (unlike the make-believe variety which lumbers brainlessly through so many books) has an intimate connection to the most profound emotions, those evoked by an experience of the sacred. She is the only writer I know who could write a guidebook to Hell that would make me want to go there.
Dennis Cooper Author of Frisk, Wrong, and Try Poppy Z. Brite's Exquisite Corpse has an intelligence, sweep, nerve, knowledge, and deeply unsettling erotic power that make most other so-called transgressive novels du jour seem like romance novels in a grouchy mood.