David J. Schow,
Rock Breaks Scissors Cut
(Subterranean Press, 2003)

David J. Schow is best known for coining the term "splatterpunk" to describe horror that is steeped in gore, but Rock Breaks Scissors Cut, his first published novel in 10 years, sets a different course, attempting to delve into matters of life itself and its ultimate meaning. The story shows great promise initially but seems to break down at the very end.

The story centers on the experiments of Dr. Gold, who has received a great deal of funding for her experiments on the nature of dreams. Three voluntary test subjects come in several times a week to be hooked up to fancy equipment for the recording of data. The volunteers could hardly be more different. Melinda is a shy, awkward woman with a quiet job in a bookstore, no social life outside the world of her pet cats and almost nothing in the way of communications skills. Jovana is a well-known model who hides a lot of insecurity and private pain underneath the face she shows so much of the world every day. Gilbert is a journalist who writes about entertainment and popular culture, and there does not seem to be much substance to his character at all.

Initially, the three subjects leave the lab as they arrived, quite separately, but something strange takes place after one particular session. While Gilbert is dreaming of Jovana, he has a juicy little encounter with Melinda, and events soon take on some wild turns. Each character begins to become more aware of one another, and each takes drastic action of one sort or another on one significant day. Melinda basically disappears in all but voice, but we follow Gilbert and Jovana through a series of mental perturbations as they seek to understand why they suddenly seem to know so many secret things about one another.

Gradually, the three realize that they have all become linked in a very important, if not symbiotic way. With Dr. Gold nowhere to be found, their journey leads them to stranger and stranger revelations, and it is here that the novel begins to crumble. The manner in which these three characters come together is rather far-fetched, and the ultimate revelation about the true nature of the experiments really needed a lot more explanation and background to seem remotely plausible. I have to admit I was somewhat disappointed by the conclusion of what had seemed to be a quite promising novel.

Rock Breaks Scissors Cut is not a long novel by any means, stretching out no more than 140 pages. This has the feel of a very long short story, as it lacks some of the filler material, contextualization and character development that an effective novel would seem to require. This is not a bad book by any means, as parts of the story are quite compelling and even insightful. Schow definitely has talent, and I would very much like to sample more of his work in the future.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 20 December 2003

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