We all belong to one thing. One thing that everything belongs to. All of us make up everything which makes up Everything, which makes up us, which makes up Everything. And we’re killing it…
–Abby, “Korsakoff Blight”
The title character of Korsakoff Blight opens the novel desperately clutching on to the sort of New Agey mantras that are so ubiquitous in our “self-help” culture: “Doing good would be good and I want to eat the good.” Blight initially seeks a path of self-actualization that absorbs the meat of these mantras whole, and thus receiving an almost instantaneous enlightenment.
But as he crucially realizes at the end of the sequence: “My name is Korsakoff Blight and this is not my story.”
Korsakoff Blight is Tyranny Of The Muse creator Eddie Wright’s second novel—and though it is tempting for me to compare it to a work like Fight Club, a far more apt description would be, “Post-Fight Club.” For despite its blunt—sometimes comical, sometimes tragic—depictions of depression, substance abuse, violence, and an absolutely crushing sense of anomie, Korsakoff Blight is ultimately a road map to exactly that much sought-after enlightenment.
But Blight’s path to this is not through the repeated-until-blue-in-the-face shop-worn mantras and sudden announcements to the world that a brand new healthy and productive Leaf has been turned.
Rather, it is found by the haphazard splitting of the ego into sentient fragments, by a knife buried in the head and a harrowing jaunt into a sketchy basement beyond the basement. In short, enlightenment is achieved by going through the nigredo stage of alchemy, what Robert Anton Wilson called “Chapel Perilous.”
The inciting (insighting?) incident is the death of Korsakoff’s father—also named Korsakoff Blight. At the funeral he spies a rumpled wreck of a man, Lane Lazlo, kissing his father’s corpse and, in the process, leaving a bit of tuna on his cold cheek.
Korsakoff later learns that Lane, a private detective, was a character in a book his late father was working on…and then later seemingly picks up Lane’s identity himself.
It is at this point, with such developments as multiple selves, fictional characters spilling into reality, and the concept of books-within-books, where author Wright himself might be traveling into Chapel Perilous territory. Those mindbending tropes—mastered by such writers as Philip K. Dick and Chuck Palahniuk—are hard to pull off without sounding pretentious and purposely aiming for that sweet M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist.
But Wright does indeed manage to pull it all off in a way that feels fresh, genuine, and organic. To me, this is one of the book’s greatest strengths. It feels very honest, almost in a deadpan sort of manner.
This quality is most exemplified in one of Korsakoff Blight‘s stories-within-a-story, “The Psycho Killer Down The Street.” Written by a very young Korsakoff Blight for school, it is a rapid-fire catalog of gory fight scenes—first between him and the Psycho, and later between him and Satan.
These sequences are both hilarious and, especially as we move into the more harrowing events later in the book, almost profound in their crudity. As the fictional version of young Korsakoff goes to Hell, we have the literal version of the Chapel Perilous journey— the trip to the Underworld which is the equivalent of the secret basement-beyond-the-basement Korsakoff finds in his dead father’s house, and the strange river that lies beyond that.
In the end, Korsakoff has the realization that “our higher selves can recognize our higher selves just as our lower selves can recognize our lower selves.” He has learned the secret to personal alchemy—not to obliterate the “anti-good” parts of oneself, but rather to achieve synthesis.
Too much of a rosy conclusion for a contemporary novel? Given the current climate, perhaps we need more road maps like these.