To meet Barbie Wilde is to be swept up in gregariousness and good humor. The ebullient Cyndi Lauperesque actress/dancer/writer (best known for her role as the Female Cenobite in Hellbound: Hellraiser II, Wilde has also appeared in Death Wish 3 and Grizzly II: The Concert) radiates good cheer and an open attitude towards her fans as she regales them with hilarious anecdotes from her eclectic career. She seems genuinely interested in people as she listens to a story or poses for a picture. That is why it is such a shock that The Venus Complex came from the mind and pen of Ms. Wilde. Make no mistake – The Venus Complex is hard. Not hard in the way that Faulkner or Joyce is hard, but rather hard in its gruesome viciousness and its effect on the reader’s psyche. It is an unsettling novel that is also very, very good; a must read for anyone interested in serial killers, horror fiction, or both.
The Venus Complex tells the tale of Michael Friday, an unassuming art history professor in upstate New York. At the beginning of the novel, written in the first-person, journal-entry style, Professor Friday experiences “the Accident”, where he makes the sudden decision to drive his car off the road and into a group of trees. His unfaithful wife perishes but Michael survives the Accident, and as the phoenix did, emerges from the wreckage reborn.
Well, not initially. At first, Friday endures a stultifying existence convalescing and living inside his (increasingly darker) psyche. As Wilde writes:
It is as if I am turning into something. Something dead. I am becoming a mechanical man, a robot. I have this eerie feeling that if I make one wrong move, someone is going to come along, switch off the juice and that will be the end of it all….I will be a big fat zero. In many ways that would be a relief.
Ultimately, Friday declares “I want to be SOMEBODY. I don’t want to be a big NOBODY.” He decides that killing people would be the cure to what ails him. However, Prof. Friday is too cultured, too intelligent to merely take people’s lives. Instead, he decides to turn each victim into a work of art, his own personal Venuses, inspired by the figures in the paintings that he admires so much. Hence the Venus Project is born.
Wilde’s prose is lean and mean and she has a wicked way with words. The book is uncomfortably erotic as Friday indulges in his taboo-destroying sexual fantasies. Friday’s inner musings are interspersed with gleefully politically incorrect screeds that are shocking not just for how they transgress accepted social discourse but also for how damn astute they are. Regarding religion, Wilde writes:
God doesn’t give a flying fuck what we do. He sits up there, tearing out what is left of his hair and despairing of us like any other exhausted parent about a child who has gone wrong. And he probably thinks, “Fuck the human race. I’m going to send an asteroid their way to wipe them out and start all over again. This time I’ll give cockroaches brains instead of monkeys. It’s got to be an improvement over the last bunch.”
Many have compared The Venus Complex to Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. Indeed there are similarities. Both are narrated in the first person and both feature graphic sexual slaughter. Yet one feels that Ellis’s killer would have had admiration for Michael Friday. Just as Patrick Bateman habitually watched and rewatched that one scene in Body Double over and over again, had he had access to The Venus Complex, he likely too would have habitually read and reread it over and over again. And where Ellis’s novel soothed the reader with implications that the horrific crimes were merely the fabrications of a diseased mind, there is no question that Friday’s crimes are disturbingly, horrifically real.
The Venus Complex is a masterful debut novel that remains with the reader long after the cover is shut. Prof. Michael Friday is a worthy addition to the pantheon of literary killers. Yet unlike Hannibal Lecter or Dexter Morgan, there is no romanticizing or sympathizing with Friday. He is cruel and viscous; psychopathic and dangerous. And unfortunately for us all, he is all too human. Disturbingly so.