Book Review

Red X by David Demchuk

reality is evil enough... i do not *get* supernatural horror

February 6th, 2022

I think this is only the second time I have read any supernatural horror since I began this blog (unless you count Octavia Butler (which I don’t) or that terrible vampire novel I read naked on the beach one summer, which I also don’t count but for very clear reasons (it wasn’t scary and was very very right wing, which is the opposite of what vampire fiction is meant to be (vampire stories are meant to be sexy)), and the reason for that is that it’s not a genre that appeals to me.

Things that aren’t real are rarely as horrible as the realities that the world presents us with on a daily basis.

In the midst of an ongoing (if now largely ignored) pandemic and the continued rise of far right political groups across the so-called “developed” world, imaginary horrors are redundant. David Demchuk, a queer male writer based in Toronto, even acknowledges this in his 2018 novel, Red X, by referring (in recurring fourth-wall busting postmodernist sections) to the serial killer apprehended here in the city a few years ago who had been murdering – and disappearing – gay and bisexual men for decades. The very last page of the book, the acknowledgements, ends with the names of the known victims of this murderer, who almost certainly killed many more people who were never traced back to him.

Gay men have been, historically, a vulnerable group. In many parts of the world, sex between two consenting men was a punishable crime for centuries, and this remains so in some places to this day (which is appalling! Like, literally, there are countries in the world that openly legislate to make being gay a crime and other countries’ political and business leaders continue to parlay with them for profit: it’s unconscionable); the Toronto-based serial killer is one of several people, from across the world, who have been arrested for the same crimes perpetrated against the same people.

Even today, in supposedly “liberal” countries, some queer people are ostracised by their friends and family, and it is this displacement that is exploited by these murderers. No one looks for people they do not realise are missing, and sometimes people choose to disappear.

Safety and privacy are sometimes in opposition.

(e.g. I don’t have any friends here and that means I get to enjoy privacy, but if my lover went to e.g. visit friends or family for a week and I deliberately or accidentally bled out in our shit apartment, there’s no one who would come looking for me, which is not safety.)

Anyway, sorry.

Also there was the AIDS/HIV epidemic, which disproportionately affected the queer community. This was another real – and recent – horror.

Queer people were targeted and murdered by the Nazis, there are ongoing acts of homophobic and transphobic violence every day, and there remains a firm institutional bias that normalises heterosexual nuclear families as the “default” societal unit (about the only time when the capitalistic world does allow for a sense of community larger than the individual).

Red X, though, has a fictional, supernatural, danger added to this list. Perhaps it is escapism for Demchuk, as a queer man, to write of physical danger directed towards himself and his community that isn’t real, especially one that (spoilers!) remains undefeated by the text’s end. 

I don’t like monsters.

I don’t like shape-shifting fairy folk creatures.

But I also don’t like the iniquities of reality very much either, and I don’t know if making up even more things to be scared of is a good way to pretend there aren’t really, really, scary things irl that we need to acknowledge and fear before we can get rid of them…

Not my kind of thing, but who am I to judge?


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