Here’s the way I described Jon Bassoff’s Corrosion to a friend recently: Dark, hallucinatory, a bit like Cormac McCarthy meets Robert Stone meets David Lynch meets Flannery O’Connor. And then they all get drunk and write a story together. Not blind drunk, mind you—just enough to lose all their inhibitions. That’s why I didn’t mention William Faulkner, who wasn’t known for stopping at merely tipsy, but he’s in there, too.
Generally, I dislike talking about fiction in these kinds of terms. Not that I feel it’s wrong to describe art in terms of other art, but because it sometimes classifying this way comes across as intellectual laziness. It doesn’t have to, though, and I believe it’s appropriate in the case of Corrosion. Bassoff does seem to be invoking these artists—and many others—but he’s not aping them or relying on them to tell his story. He’s entirely in command of this one. If the reader gets the references, fine. If not, that’s fine, too.
Corrosion follows three characters’ stories, each related in first-person narratives, each unique, compelling, and utterly chilling.
Joseph Downs is a man with a horribly disfigured face, a result of a wartime run-in with an IED. This veteran of the Iraq War comes to a small Colorado town where he meets a woman who needs help from her abusive husband. Throughout his narrative, amid all the other happenings—and there are plenty—Downs constantly thinks about his place on the mountain, a place he desperately wants to reach but for some reason resists. Almost immediately, Downs becomes involved in a bad situation in the process of becoming worse. He’s also stalked by a stranger, a man he doesn’t recognize but who seems to know him.
Elsewhere, there’s Benton Faulk, a disturbed young man living in a small mountain town. He’s lost his father to insanity, is on the verge of losing his mother to a horrible illness, and seems to be headed toward some unknown catastrophic event. Reverend Wells is a masked preacher who believes it is his God-ordained duty to save the sinful from perdition. Beneath his mask, Wells hides a terrible secret.
In some ways, Corrosion also reminded me of Christopher Nolan’s amnesia-noir film Memento. There were many things that worked well about that one, but one of the most impressive was how the viewer was able to make vital connections (or at least entertain suspicions) before the protagonist did. At the same time, there were instances in which we and the protagonist learned the truth at precisely the same time. That’s a difficult balance to strike for anyone, filmmaker or writer.
There are some hefty, absorbing mysteries going on in Corrosion: What is it about Downs’ past that has him so tortured? What climactic event is Faulk facing? What is Reverend Wells’ secret? How are these three characters connected? Bassoff does excellent work pulling the reader through the story, in large part thanks to these mysteries. On the one hand, you see and feel everything the narrator is experiencing, but on the other you feel as if you’re distanced from what’s happening. Then it hits you: That’s how the narrator feels. It’s as if it’s happening to someone else, and it occurs to you that this is quite a feat the author is pulling.
Corrosion is one dark, weird ride. And I mean that in a good way.