If a slaughterhouse had glass walls, what you’d witness through them might resemble the events in Andrew F. Sullivan’s debut novel, which is certainly an early candidate for feel-queasy book of the year. Unfolding in 1989, in the decaying fictional Toronto suburb of Larkhill, Waste follows a quartet of screw-ups and wannabe skinheads – Jamie Garrison, Moses Moon, Logan Chatterton, and Brock “B-Rex” Cutcherson – as they do long shifts at the butcher shop or the liquor store warehouse, get high, and cope with fractured families and dysfunctional relationships.
Things take a turn for the bizarre and hyper-violent after Jamie and Moses hit and kill a runaway lion in their used Oldsmobile Cutlass (a car that smells like hand sanitizer and pork). Turns out the lion belongs to local drug kingpin Astor Crane, whose beefy hired thugs are brothers with ZZ Top–inspired beards. Now the feckless foursome are in big trouble. If you gravitate toward scenes involving kneecaps being drilled, human corpses being hidden in industrial tubs of meat slurry, or a bowling ball called the Judge that causes more brain injuries than it ought to, this book is for you.
Waste is a Tarantino-esque celebration of the mortification of the flesh, except there is no redemption, no spiritual dimension. The violence is the end in itself, as when a nosy neighbour gets her head stomped or the local magic mushroom peddler, known as Larry the Lorax, gets consumed in a fire. That scene reminded me of Allen Ginsberg’s epic beat poem, “Howl”: “Back in the yellow motel halls, Moses stood against a dirty window and watched the sun rise over whirring police cars in the parking lot. Two officers argued with a naked man threatening them with a rolled-up newspaper.”
When readers aren’t retching over scenes of self-inflicted knife wounds or a stray abbatoir bullet perforating Jamie’s father’s hand, they’ll experience a confident storyteller whose darkly humorous and down-market prose has the cumulative effect of a Jackson Pollock canvas – except instead of paint, Sullivan’s medium is blood.