SKIDSTAIN HALO, by Kevin Sweeney. Reviewer : Paul Sunderland (04/06/18).
The French word for “skid” is “déraper”. “Tache” translates “stain”, but “skidstain ” is “trace de pneus dans le slibard” (“pneu ” is “tyre”, “slibard” is slang for “shorts”, “panties”, “tighties”). “Halo ” poses no problem as it is the same word in French, yet what are we to make of “skidstain halo”? “Un halo en trace(s) de pneus “? Indeed, though to be more accurate, it sounds better to say “auréole en trace(s) de pneus”. The “auréole” testifies to the state of saintliness despite the, shall I say, oxymoronic grouping of “auréole” and “trace de pneus”, because in this short novel, the action takes place in Heaven. But Heaven is not what it used to be.
Since Satan went into retirement, Hell has closed up shop, and everybody goes to Heaven, even the worst cases, even serial killer Zinloos Geweld (which can be read “senseless violence”, “violence aveugle”), guilty of countless murders and assassinations in the course of her terrestrial existence. The main problem with Heaven, besides its ever-growing state of decrepitude, is that it’s a drag. Kevin Sweeney uses Woody Allen’s famous aporia (“Eternity is a long time, especially towards the end”), but twists it significantly, because in his novel, eternity has no end. Whereas Allen’s sentence brings out how dependent we are on our perception of time as a linear thrust made of succession, Sweeney, all in all, doesn’t do anything else but he doesn’t do just that. He also derides wildly and joyously our habitual religious representations. What seems to me to tell a lot, on the other hand, is the kind of appendix we read at the end of the book. There, in a few lines written in a sober style, I believe Kevin Sweeney shows that he is not so much a nihilist (atheist) as an agnostic; as far as I can see, he is permeable to the notion of transcendence. This addition may not have been essential to his purpose as any intelligent reader will see for him/herself on perusing Skidstain Halo.
It would indeed be too easy to just read this novel in a superficial way under the pretext of its belonging to the bizarro genre and of its subsequent liberal displaying of surrealistic violence and obscenity. Heaven has become a gigantic conglomerate of theme parks. Zinloos, who does not fit in anywhere, ends up selecting an arena dedicated to endless fights between teams of killers, monsters, super-heroes and super-villains, all more unlikely than the other, but which Sweeney masterfully ties in with pop culture. Skidstain is the name of the place. In a beyond where saints’ and angels’ haloes are made of recycled products (for want of anything more appropriate), points are won during a fight according to a player’s ability to defecate inside the halo worn by an opponent who, even dead, even atom-blasted, regenerates very quickly. These brief remarks should allow us to understand that the author is also very competent at using those worlds which we keep trying to swap for a reality either philosophically unsatisfying (failure of ideologies, and their rejection) or top-down (extremisms, rejection of confessors, advisers, spin doctors, and the like). All in all, Sweeney goes into overdrive and etches caricatures with no holds barred, because Skidstain Halo is also a very funny novel. Zinloos, in this geek universe (which is really ours), starts as a sort of shapeless, unfulfilled being (she doesn’t know who she is, what she actually is) and eventually gains consistence and self-awareness. In other words, she discovers her true identity by going beyond certain rules of action that are so crystallized in boredom and repetitivity that they border on sheer senselessness. For that matter, it is very interesting to learn, in the final lines of the novel, where the Creator, God Himself, exactly stands in these worlds which have reached the end of their tether.
As above, so below. As below, so above, but we have lost our sense of hierarchies and ends. It is fortunate that a ruthless and friendly killer should invite us to the party. On a more personal level, it’s the first time I’ve read Kevin Sweeney; I’m looking forward to discovering his other texts.