‘I hated the world so much I just couldn’t give it the satisfaction of taking my own life,’ the narrator of this chilling, often hilarious story informs us. ‘I would suffer immensely, even if, as a result, all it did was make the world squirm.’
And squirm we do.
Often wondering if a joke is being played on us or if we’re somehow in on it with the author, the reader follows the distinctive voice of a modern Incel (internet lingo for inadvertent celibate) Pat Torney as he meets the beautiful femme fatale, Nadia Schiffer, at a local comic book shop and bonds with her over erotic Manga. Vulnerable and beside himself that Nadia seems to be interested in him, he accepts her request to come over to his house to see his collection of Japanese swords.
After taking Pat’s virginity in his parent’s basement, Nadia quite easily convinces Pat to kill his mother by switching her prescription labels around, thus causing her to overdose on Oxycodone.
Carnage ensues as they go on a dark, twisted road trip together to brutally torture and kill all of the women who had ever rejected Pat in his life (almost all of whom he interacted with solely online during RPG games), all at Nadia’s compelling suggestion:
‘If I told you you could get away with it, wouldn’t you do it? And if I’m really the only girl in the world who wants you, who actually cares about how you feel, and if I’m telling you that it turns me on more than anything in the world to be with a man who takes his own destiny into his hands and gets rid of the things that are holding him back and poisoning his mind? Well, it just seems like hitting two birds with one stone, doesn’t it?’
The book is hard to get through, even as one finds oneself laughing out loud or wanting to keep turning pages out of shock, as if to see if it could possibly go further. It always does. Like some bizarre mix of 500 Days of Summer and Natural Born Killers, we can’t help but root for the poor guy being strung along, nor can we help but be strangely moved by their shared love and hatred.
However, as is often the case with transgressive literature of this type, it is hard to tell if the social commentary is being partially buried by the sheer horror and overwhelming violence on display, or if a quite simple message is being amplified and offered up as an excuse to package and encase a set of the author’s sick obsessions with misogynistic violence.
The jokes, though cleverly written, even aphoristic and sometimes parabolic in style, are often found only after having to sift through pages of, not only violence, but meditations on guilt and shame which put the reader directly into the head of someone who, for all his wit and seeming awareness of his circumstances, can’t seem to shake his constant need for affirmation from probably one of the most toxic women in literature I’ve ever encountered.
The pale crescent of her hand, now covered in the gore of our crime, moved gingerly, yet affectionately, toward mine. In the fury of that moment, with Carla below us, a former love of my life, reduced to a butchered carcass, Nadia smiled at me, not with the warmth or assurance someone in my position would have welcomed, but with an overwhelming, dare I say, an otherworldly sense of mirth.
Pat’s wising up to the machinations of his sociopathic new girlfriend occur far too late, having succeeded much role play as Anime and fantasy novel characters, proclamations of undying love, and even one promise of a future suicide pact together. The narrator’s misgivings about the path he has taken cause him to rethink his former role as an incel.
Previous sources of shame, now ghosts, call to me again, telling me that life wasn’t so bad, that perhaps I wasn’t missing much. After all, I was taken care of and must now take care of myself in a world where I am untrained and unequipped to do so, much less liable to be accepted in the face my crimes. I began to suspect that the love which had been promised to me on the wings of all this suffering I’d caused was no match to the strange thrill of my isolation, which I will never get back, which can never be mine again, now that I’m bound to this woman who promised to take away my loneliness if only I would sell my very soul, not only to her, but to that part of me which is worse than I ever imagined.
At the very peak of this moral and emotional dilemma, through strange twists and turns of event, the reader is smacked over the face with a hammer of narrative pyrotechnics, in which one is finally put in the position to question whether or not Nadia is a highly developed, runaway sex robot, hacked by the Russian government to undermine western powers, whether or not she is simply a figment of Pat’s troubled imagination or if Pat has simply told this story unreliably, in order to add excitement to his meaningless, uneventful life.
At once brutal, lyrical, introspective, dark and funny, Incel serves as a shocking piece of social commentary whose critique is aimed at world which has left behind those who most strongly believe in romance; those who are incapable of ever finding it.