Saturday, April 16, 2011

Review: The Enterprise of Death by Jesse Bullington

For readers expecting more gruesomeness, grotesquerie, and vulgarity from the author of The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart, Jesse Bullington's second novel, The Enterprise of Death, will not disappoint. Cannibalism, necrophilia, venereal diseases, the walking dead (sometimes all at once!): Enterprise has these - and more! - in spades. "Pity Boabdil," Enterprise begins, and pity the reader with a weak stomach, for Bullington is a master at gritty, harrowing and awe-inspiringly macabre detail.

Enterprise follows Awa - lesbian African slave and reluctant necromancer - on her strange journey to find the book that may (or may not) break the curse her master put upon her through a Europe in the midst of the Spanish Inquisition. Along the way Awa encounters fictional and nonfictional characters alike - from the pistol-toting mercenary Monique to the real-life Reformationist and artist, Niklaus Manuel of Bern. Some of these people help her, others seek to destroy her and name her for what she is; throughout, however, is Awa's perserving spirit.

If Enterprise's humor is sometimes darker and smattered less generously than its predecessor, it's because, at is heart, Enterprise is a more serious and deeper investigation into our humanity. Bullington isn't afraid to tackle questions of morality, particularly whether the performance of necromancy is good or evil, because Awa - for all that she is a witch and raises the dead with or without their permission - is trying to live the best possible life a black homosexual woman with supernatural powers can live during the Inquisition.

Bullington utilizes his writing strengths - clever, gritty prose and witty asides - much as he did in his debut. The difference is, instead of the heretical graverobbing murdering bastards at the heart of Grossbart, Enterprise has characters - despite their many sins - you can root for. Manuel and Monique, and especially Awa, all strive for genuine goodness. But, as Awa surmises, "The problem with telling tales about real people [is] no summary can convey every truth, every facet, and what is good for the hare is not good for the fox."

Enterprise skillfully continues the macabre niche Bullington is carving out for himself, but also brings something new to his table.

-Dustin J Monk

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