It is believed that the response of disgust has evolved in animals such as humans in order to prevent them from eating food which may be harmful. Disgust is mainly triggered by the sense of taste although it may also be triggered by smell, touch, or – of course – vision. It’s this last sense which Nathan Ballingrud appeals to in his new novella, The Visible Filth. Utilizing the reader’s feelings of disgust and repugnance, Ballingrud delivers a very disturbing and menacing atmosphere for his story, much of which takes part in a dive bar:
The roaches were in high spirits. There were half a dozen of them, caught in the teeth of love. They capered across the liquor bottles, perched atop pour spouts like wooden ladies on the prows of sailing ships. They lifted their wings and delicately fluttered. They swung their antennae with a ripe sexual urgency, tracing love sonnets in the air.
So begins Ballingrud’s grotesque tale. Against this backdrop, a plot unfolds involving a love triangle, a recovered cell phone, and some eerie text messages. Compared to Ballingrud’s 2013 debut collection, North American Lake Monsters (which you should have read by this point), The Visible Filth is decidedly darker and more in the horror range of the dark fiction category. Not to worry though: the writing here is every bit as good as Ballingrud’s previous works.
In Filth, Ballingrud has struck an excellent balance between making believable characters with realistic problems and creating a terrifying, suspenseful plot. Moreover, Ballingrud does an excellent job of balancing answers with questions – you get enough answers in the end to feel satisfied but not so many that everything in the book is explained. Visible Filth will definitely leave you wondering, it will haunt your thoughts for days afterwards, and I think that’s the true mark of a good weird tale. I think this sentiment is also echoed in the words of China Mieville: “frustrate me, I beg you.”
I have to confess that there are times when I grow bored of works that bear the horror label. However, every now and then I read an amazing, well-written piece that brings me back around and reinvigorates my love for the genre. Nathan Ballingrud’s Visible Filth is one of those pieces and I’m sure it’ll easily be one of the best releases of 2015.