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The Sun is a Circle Meant for Serving: P.W. Feutz - a book review

I am amazed by how much Feutz managed to pack into a 91-page novella while still achieving the right balance between showing and telling.

The protagonist, Katrin, is a filmmaker, and not a particularly successful one. She was brought up by traumatised ex-cultists who taught her never to trust anyone, and she often wonders whether her industry is as cut-throat as it seems, or her perception is coloured by her parents.

Needing a new project, she heeds the mantra “write what you know,” and investigates contemporary cults and their enigmatic leaders. Katrin and a younger filmmaker, Cory, arrange to interview and film the members of the Highest Seeking Faithful at their compound. Katrin doesn’t know what to expect, and when they reach their destination, her view of the cultists wavers from middle-class eccentrics to self-deluding lunatics. However, eager to make the best of the situation, she takes the opportunity to brush up on her skills while trying to put her scepticism aside and keep her mind open.

The true strength of this book is Feutz’s ability to create vivid descriptions using short paragraphs.

“…hunched over the wheel for a better look at the snowcaps, searing white on gray whalebacks, turning the horizon two-dimensional.”

In some ways his spare prose reminds me of Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory, and as a fan of Banks’ work, I do not use the comparison lightly.

“…a massive fire pit alongside a curved, blackened beam that stuck up from the ground and toward the pit like the angel of death’s finger.”

Most of the story is a slow burn. Yes, there are moments when things feel wrong or at least askew, but until the final thirty pages, there are no scares and very little threat. Even when the action ramps up, we are not faced with torture, terror, or spine-tingling horror. Awe is far more prevalent than fear in this narrative.

What are the cultists trying to guide to their camp with that torch-lit landing strip? Are they careless campers, or is there another reason for the charred wood around the cabins? And why are they willing to invite two unknown filmmakers to witness their weekend rituals?

We want to understand, and like Katrin, we refuse to turn away when faced with the final reveal.

Is it horror? That depends on your definition. If you want gore and moments of revulsion, you won’t find them here, and may even view this story as cosy. But if you enjoy the feeling of mild unease and the gradual building of dread that Gothic stories provide, this novella will serve you well.

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