Jasper Bark’s novel The Final Cut is the literary equivalent of a pitcher plant: once you fall in, you never come out again. At least, not unchanged.
When writing book reviews, it’s easy to slide into hyperbole and cliché: “This is the best book I’ve ever read!” Or, “Spine-tingling, horrific!” The reality, however, never quite matches up with the hype, does it?
Not until now.
Intricately plotted, The Final Cut takes you deeper and deeper, page by page, into a story that’s unbelievably dark, but not without Bark’s inimitable touches of black humor. Sam’s experiences in particular are horrific when read in the moment, but laughed at in recollection. Despite this darkness, Bark’s purpose is not to elicit disgust for its own sake, but to tell a broader story of why we read horror, why we subject ourselves to vicarious suffering.
That’s what makes this such a compelling, even necessary book. It’s a master class on horror for both reader and writer, getting under your skin and, most importantly, staying there. The ending…I wish I could tell you about it, how you won’t forget it, how deeply disturbing it is, but I can’t say too much or I’ll ruin the surprise. It “plagues your mind” because of how it ends, not that it doesn’t: a rare feat in horror literature.
I’ve mentioned before how Bark “uses horror tropes as a pulley, of sorts, to move the machinery of much larger themes,” and nowhere else is this more evident than in The Final Cut. Here, Bark tackles the central conceit of the horror genre itself, as well as the nature of storytelling. To quote the Tailor of the True Cloth, a character we can all learn from, “Fiction isn’t real life…when you tell a story you are setting a contract with your audience.” Bark is telling us here that readers have a right to demand quality from the stories they read, and that writers have an obligation to provide that quality. The best stories, Bark says, are those that end: “A story without an ending lacks the proper shape or form, it insults the audience and plagues their mind because it lacks resolution.”
Part horror, part fantasy, all extraordinary, The Final Cut is a book you’ll find impossible to disregard. It sinks hooks in you from the first page and never, ever lets go, not even when you’ve closed the book.