Stillborn Gallery by Axl Barnes

The nine stories collected in Barnes’s Stillborn Gallery make for an almost uniformly bleak, nihilistic deep dive into the horrors of banality, the depths of depression, heavy metal, and suicide. If you’re familiar with Axl Barnes, you shouldn’t be altogether surprised by any of that.
Barnes utilizes almost poetic prose at times, almost exclusively when applied to the most awful of things. He has a knack for painting vivid and breathtaking pictures of things the reader might not want to see, and it makes for a fantastic experience.
There’s a great deal to look forward to, for the discerning reader, from the almost Kafka-esque “Numbskull” to the morbidly romantic “Sunday Exit” in these pages.
For me, “A Perfect Day” sort of sums up the whole experience. We get to witness a day that is going smoothly for our protagonist, a man who has a vacation on the near horizon that he’ll be sharing with a clearly devoted lover. Suddenly he begins fixating on an experience from his childhood, wherein a doctor had to lance an infected wound. This fixation does nothing to spoil his mood–the way I’m about to spoil this single story–but he proceeds to kill himself in a graphic, single-minded act…perhaps because it’s best to leave on a high note.
The illustrations provided by Thomas Stetson are captivating, bringing to life a certain grimy, filthy element that flows naturally with the stories provided by Barnes.

Odin Rising by Axl Barnes

Before reading this book, I made the mistake of reading some of the reviews. Admittedly, that made me apprehensive about what I was going to be reading.
I really didn’t need to be concerned and, based on the interpretations of this book on display in many of those reviews, I’m fairly certain many of those people either did not read this or didn’t read more than what was available as a sample.
I’ll say it right away that this is not a book for everyone. It’s heavy in tone and in style…heavy like a brick at times, and equally hard to swallow.
At its core, this is a book about a juvenile delinquent, his delinquent friends, and their desperate, fumbling attempts to find a place for themselves in the Eastern European world around them.
Tudor, the initial focus of the story, is arrogant and self-assured in the way only the least self-aware and incompetent can be. He is a bitter, resentful young man who feels like he is too good for the life he’s subjected to by the inferior parents who are raising him. He finds solace in the interests shared with his small group of friends; heavy metal, occultism, anarchism bordering on nihilism, and ultimately he finds himself influenced by the neo-Nazi philosophy adopted and promoted by the one friend he actually admires and respects, Alex.
All of this changes after a series of poor choices and impulsive actions leads to a dramatic, violent mistake.
Tudor, being the maladjusted boy he is, spends his time retroactively justifying and rationalizing what he’s done, to the extent that he begins fixating on further violence and killing.
This drives the whole final third of the story.
Tudor finally goes over the edge, experiencing the first seeming spark of self-reflection, as Alex seeks to go the other direction and displays nothing but contempt and disdain for Tudor.
We finally arrive at a climax that feels both feverish and well thought out. It’s as much a conflict of opposing philosophies as Tudor and his remaining friends against Alex.
While the story may feel slow at times and it’s difficult to want to continue, with protagonists/antagonists who are far from sympathetic. Think of it as a supernatural horror story mixing in elements of A Clockwork Orange, Stand By Me, and Gone Girl, and you’ll probably have a decent idea of what you’re getting into.
The further into the story you get, the further the lines become blurred between fantasy and reality, waking life and dreams. There are flashes of brilliant prose that draw your attention but you should be prepared, as I said above, it’s a thick and heavy book to read.