Review - Ravenna Gets

Written by Tony Burgess
Published by Anvil Press

A story:

A person—who they are, what they do, what cares and woes they may have are all irrelevant—goes about their daily business, maybe slacks off, maybe quibbles with another, and is then suddenly and horribly slaughtered.

Rinse and repeat and the final product is Tony Burgess' Ravenna Gets.

It's a slim, if horrific, work, less than a hundred pages and not structured in any fashion befitting of the term "novella." Even "short story collection" doesn't quite describe it.

Set for the most part in the small Ontario community of Collingwood, Ravenna Gets is a series of short vignettes depicting the final moments in the lives of some of the town’s residents. Shut-in, babysitter, by-law officer and small child find morbid common ground in their brutal murders at the hands of the neighbouring community of Ravenna.

This rash of violence remains unexplained for the duration of the story, the final chapter—its final line, even—revealing nothing akin to motive. The small-scale genocide that plagues Collingwood is as arbitrary as it is uncompromising.

Where the compilation lacks reason it certainly makes up for in rhyme, so formulaic it could be the output of a mathematical function rather than the offspring of creativity. Its individual stories are slices of life, scenarios beginning in medias res and ending with the same quantity of exposition with which they began. Burgess includes names and professions for the afflicted characters, but whatever potential empathy these could provide is quickly eradicated with a swipe of an axe or blast of a shotgun.

Perhaps Ravenna Gets is an experiment, albeit it an incredibly gory one. Burgess attempts and manages to top every successive act of murder with each vignette, the apex being the truly disturbing death of an obese pervert at the hands of his borderline invalid mother. Yet through the blood and entrails—and believe me, there are entrails—we see little indication of what purpose, if any, this experiment is supposed to have. It’s an exercise in method, one certainly wielding results, but no clear conclusions can be drawn.

The book’s synopsis perhaps provides some kind of answer, it being more informative than the compendium’s own contents: “There is one thing missing, however, as the bodies fall from what might have been better stories, better novels, and it’s this: everything.” I agree, but if there’s anything constructive in this overarching absence I can’t see it.

While the idea of a rifle’s shot as analogue to an editor’s rejection stamp may be an interesting one, the novelty wears off after the third or fourth iteration. Surprise is replaced by shock, is replaced by a sort of twisted amusement, and finally by boredom. Certain elements of storytelling can work as a guessing game; wondering in which way a child will soon be butchered certainly isn’t one of them.

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