Friday, July 15, 2016

A Thermometer in America's Sick Mouth: A Kind of Review of Prelude to the Massacre

By Paul Garth

I started Prelude to the Massacre by Stan Miller on July 3rd, 2016. It was late when I started to read. We were on vacation. My wife was asleep beside me. The window of the cottage we were staying at for the Fourth of July weekend was cracked open ever so slightly. I could hear the wind and the soft waves on the lake. The buzzing of insects. I’ve known this lake my entire life. The small town around it. The friendly citizens of the town who know me and my entire family. My dad grew up there. My mother grew up not ten miles down the road. We’re third generation, practically, despite never living there year round. It’s always been picturesque.

Prelude to the Massacre is about Lee, a murderous arsonist drunk / drug abuser / psychopath whose fantasies start with torturing and killing his own mother then grow exponentially worse as time goes on. Eventually he comes to live with his cousin, Jeff, a Marine veteran missing half of his face and all of his soul. Together they explore murder, depravity, cruelty and neo-nazi ideology in the Arizona heat. You can feel the sweltering pain of madness rising from the pages. You will want to throw the book down more than once. Probably more than ten times. This is a dangerous book. A disgusting book. A book everyone in America should read.

The afternoon before I started Prelude to the Massacre my wife and I went to eat lunch at a restaurant off the highway. It’s a restaurant I’ve been coming to since I was a child. My grandfather’s unofficial wake was held there. I know the owner. Had dinner with him later that night, in fact. The food is pretty good. The beer is cold. Baseball is always on the TVs in the summer, and sometimes cable news channels. Donald Trump was on one of the TVs, speaking at a podium. The news was reporting how, the day before, he’d sent out a tweet that involved a Star of David set over piles of cash, next to a photo of Hillary Clinton. The implication was obvious—old fashioned anti-semitism. Two days later, Trump would say anyone who saw that tweet and thought it was anti-semitic, well, those were the real anti-semites.

Prelude to the Massacre is about Lee and Jeff and their intertwining madness, but it’s also about, mostly about, how a society ends up in a place where such obviously hateful ideology can become acceptable to the mainstream. It’s about how our culture, White American Culture, has always been a cheap stand in for the militaristic fantasies of the Oppressor, the hateful thing inside our society that demands the Other be rungs below us, if on the ladder at all. It’s about how our culture is not content with being on top. It’s about how we need everyone else to be dead and bleeding from the mouth and ears below us. Prelude to the Massacre is about how our country is basically a remake of Friday the 13th, and White American Culture is zombie Jason Vorheese, slashing his way through all the blood and bone he can find.  It’s a book without heroes. There are only villains now.

Nazis came in while we were eating. Average height. Skinny. Tanned. There were four of them. They wore black shirts with Swastikas and SS Runes and Iron Crosses and Germanic Eagles. Surprisingly, I could not see any tattoos. Three men and a woman. They didn’t sit underneath the TV with Trump on it. They sat underneath a TV playing a Cleveland Indians game. They were not aggressive. They were not rude.  They were casual. They let the symbols on their clothing speak for them. I was fucking terrified.

Lee will try to convince the reader otherwise, but the initial pain in Prelude to the Massacre has nothing to do with race or gender. There is terror in this novel. Pain and fear. Drugs and booze are coping mechanisms. Hate is a coping mechanism. Because everyone in Prelude to the Massacre has been damaged. They’ve been damaged by those they love. Those they’ve served and sworn loyalty to. Their government has betrayed them. The economy has forgotten them. Help, even counseling, has never once been offered. They are ill and contagious. Brutality, sadism, and racial superiority are not the disease, but instead symptoms of their fear.

I imagined following one of the neo-nazis into the bathroom. Imagined carrying my plate, tucking it up inside my shirt. Following the man into the bathroom, and, as he urinated, smashing him over the head with it. I would leave him unconscious and bleeding on the piss-dirty tiles of small bar and grill, next to a quiet highway that ran through a small lake town. I imagined him drowning in his own irrelevance. On the TV, they showed Trump’s anti-semitic tweet again. At that point, he was saying it was a Sheriff’s badge. It showed, he said, his respect for law and order. On the other TV the Blue Jays and the Indians traded runs. I asked for the check.

Prelude to the Massacre is not a book that can be reviewed. There are review like things you can say about it—that the writing is tight, that the plot is engaging and moves quickly, that the dialogue never feels out of place, that occasionally there are beautiful lines and occasionally there are brutal lines—but all of that would miss the point. Prelude to the Massacre is not a book that wants to be liked. It’s a book that wants to scream. It’s a novel, and a good one, but more than that, it’s a thermometer in America’s sick mouth. It’s a snapshot of the mercury rising. It’s the moment you regretfully remember after the thermometer breaks and mercury slides down your chin and over your tongue and you choke on it while glass lodges in your gums. More than anything, Prelude to the Massacre is a warning. Jeff tells Lee that something is coming. The final inescapable race war. That the white man, led by the warrior spirit of his ancestors, Wotan, will someday soon vanquish his genetic inferiors. That law and order will break down along racial lines. That those sworn to defend will betray their posts, just as their country has betrayed them. “Not all cops are pigs,” Jeff tells Lee. “The cops here are on our side! They wouldn’t care if we killed all the niggers and all the Mexicans!” Soon, Jeff begins planning a terrorist attack. Final Fires, he calls it. Soon, they’re going to set the whole goddamn thing off.

The day I finished Prelude to the Massacre police killed two black men, both killings caught on video. In Baton Rouge. In Falcon Heights. Earlier in the day, Donald Trump again defended his anti-semitic tweet. He used the word “Star” 27 times in a five-minute section of his stump speech. He said the media were liars. He never explained how his staff had come across the image, how it’d been originally posted to a white-supremacist message board.

Jeff tells Lee that something is coming.

I try to tell myself that Prelude to the Massacre isn’t really the warning I think it is. I tell myself the Nazis I saw at the restaurant the day I started reading it put me in a bad place. That I shouldn’t have been reading anything like it. Nothing is coming, I tell myself. Things will be fine. Things are always fine. I try to fall asleep. A summer storm shrieks outside my window.  The thunder sounds like bombs.  


  1. I like, totally want this book now. Good job, Reviewer Man.

  2. Cool review. Guess I am gonna have to give it a read. . .