Grind Your Bones To Dust by Nicholas Day
Publisher: Excession Press | Release Date: October 10, 2019 | Pages: 214
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“The desert remained a cold and scheming stillness, despite his rapid heartbeat and sharp breaths. Silence stalked the mind as surely as any nocturnal creature in this vast nothing.” - Nicholas Day, Grind Your Bones to Dust
“I will grind your bones to dust
And with your blood and it I'll make a paste,
And of the paste a coffin I will rear
And make two pasties of your shameful heads…” - William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus Act V, Scene ii
Very early this year, I read Day’s novella At The End of the Day I Burst Into Flames, so I had some idea of the skill to expect as well as his ability to snare my emotions quickly and deeply. In this debut novel, Day proves that while he excels in the short form, longer fiction is well within his skill set. Segmented into four related yet different parts, readers should expect non-linear storytelling I can only liken to Vonnegut and others. It takes chops to make storytelling like this work and I sit in awe when it is done well. This is definitely the case here.
Grind Your Bones to Dust is a masterclass in deeply unsettling horror. Shifting, sometimes unreliable, protagonists (there are different focal points within each section) and a plot that drags the reader into depths unknown transform this novel into a violent, gorgeous experience. Unique villains such as carnivorous, evil donkeys, a raven with an agenda, and a murderous, proselytizing dark preacher, round out a cast of characters this reader isn’t likely to forget.
I need to re-read this book upon publication. What’s amusing to me is that in my “day job” I teach students to look for connections, allusions, deeper meanings, and anything they can use to peel back the layers of story they encounter. I, myself, have been tasked to do this throughout undergrad and two different graduate programs. Yet I feel like I missed so much. Shortly after Part 1, I finally started picking up on little things. Biblical names of characters. Actions of these aptly named characters that show that Day has something to say about religion, loss, and normative expectations. There is more here than murderous donkeys. There is more here than an unusual form of plot. It is this richness that I only got a glimpse of and that I need to glean more from. This is no fault of the author, it is mine and I kind of like that I have reason to join this world again. Even at the end, when I discovered, in shock, why the title sounded so familiar (see the Shakespeare quote above), I marvelled at how these allusions were hidden and yet accessible. I only needed to open my mind a bit more. (Side note: Titus Andronicus is a play I have studied and even taught. This scene is PERFECT for the title of this book.)
I took my time with this novel, savoring the pieces and, at times, looking up in revulsion. This story is heavy and entertaining; moreover, it’s one I am unlikely to ever forget. Grind Your Bones to Dust has earned a place in my top 10 reads of 2019; don’t miss this one.