"Behold the Void" Book Review
Written by Jonathan Lees
"He saw himself within the great mouth, a speck of dust on the surface of an insignificant planet; a vast power, destructive and blind, cast a mountain's shadow over his small carapace of wet quivering flesh. Behold the void, it said." - "Mandala" from Behold the Void
Written by Phillip Fracassi
2017, 351 pages, Fiction
Released on March 12th, 2017
In the hands of author Phillip Fracassi, we are molded into flawed, tiny figures lost in ourselves too deep to fathom. We are slaves to ritual and quiver in the face of unknown entities. We are subject to turning on our loved ones, our friends and each other to service sometimes selfish needs and a deeper understanding of our regret or rage. In other words... we are human.
Each of the stories collected here in Behold the Void peers behind shimmering veils, allowing us entrance to a mirror of our existing world where gods and monsters roam alongside these fated characters or, on occasion, within.
Opening on "Soft Construction of a Sunset", a friendship is immediately tested when the boundaries of reality shift and both men are left reeling in the wake of its implications. In "Coffin", a young girl is confronted with mortality in the shape of her grandmother. Two women with bad blood between them; one who holds dear the rituals of her nature and the one who refuses to obey its order.
Short story collections are often the best place to experience the obsessions of an author. Phillip Fracassi holds nothing back unleashing demons on the page and inviting us into a place we might normally not want to enter. Like a public swimming pool. If you've ever been to a town pool, it generally contains the denizens of a hell we haven't dreamed of yet. Within "Altar", Fracassi pits his fated characters against seemingly insurmountable odds and inserts them into a scenario much worse than we imagined. A weary mother and her children escape for some relaxation and encounter bullying, assault and sacrifice that mask a very real fear of a childhood stolen and replaced by a whirlpool of despair that some may not have the fortitude to escape.
There is a reverence in the power of the majestic creatures on Earth even if we chose to enslave and use them for meat, sport or hard labor. "The Horse Thief" illustrates the bond between a doomed stallion, a protagonist with questionable moralities and a monstrous man who makes us question above all if we are not the true untamable beasts.
The themes Fracassi returns to often involve characters in states of repair after familial loss, which are explored with various degrees of success in "Mother, Surfer Girl, and Fail-Safe". All these minor horrors, stories featuring animal abusing loners, tempted priests and uncontrollable parental figures, feel like preludes or sketches leading up to this collection's monumental achievement: Mandala, a heartbreaking and fingernail annihilating story of a boy facing the brute, unforgiving force of nature after abandonment by a dead mother, a grieving father and a distracted friend.
Inside the pages of Behold the Void, those looking for a glimmer of hope might have to squint hard, but somewhere under this shapeless mass of humanity we encounter daily, Phillip Fracassi understands that for all our flaws and all the evils we are confronted with, there's always something worse we should be helping each other fight against. I could be misinterpreting, but I get the sense with each successive story he's issuing us another warning.