by Margaret Killjoy
Disclaimer: Margaret Killjoy is a dear friend of mine, and someone I care about very much. This may bias me in favor of her absolutely great fiction. She is also the founder of the AGR, the website that is hosting this review. She did not, however, write any part of this review, ask me to write any part of this review, or otherwise influence it in any way, besides having written a fucking great book that got me excited enough to write this.
Margaret Killjoy is an astounding writer, and her latest, The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion, is an astounding book. Her work is intriguing, thought provoking, and enjoyable as hell to read. Killjoy is absolutely amazing in her ability to combine realism, imagination, idealism, and storytelling. In that way, her stories are perfectly anarchist. She seamlessly combines an understanding of, frustration with, and love of the forms of anarchism expressed by academic theory essays, crust punks, black blocs, punk shows, endless meetings, and squatted homes to show a thoroughly realistic, thoroughly idealistic enactment of her politics, perfect primarily in that she refuses to portray perfection. What makes her stories work so well, narratively and politically, is that her anarchist societies are messy, and the people are fully human. This forms the basis for some beautifully creative, dark, and ultimately hopeful speculative fiction.
Her anarchist societies are messy, and the people are fully human. This forms the basis for some beautifully creative, dark, and ultimately hopeful speculative fiction.
The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion takes place in an abandoned town squatted by anarchists, called Freedom, Iowa. The setting alone is thoroughly fascinating, as is the narrator, a woman trying to find the reason behind her friend’s recent suicide, but the story centers around the murderous god (?) demon (???) deer monster that is stalking the town. Margaret Killjoy’s wonderful talent for matter of fact realism makes the undead disemboweled birds that watch the characters’ attempts to solve this mystery feel fully plausible and authentic, as much so as the free store where the residents of the town distribute groceries or the crumbling school auditorium where they hold meetings. Freedom, Iowa is populated by people who most of us will probably feel like we have met before, without being stereotypes or stock characters. They are very true people, and they are people that I at least want very much to spend more time with. The debates the characters have as they deal with the supernatural entity that appears intent on cleansing their community of those it judges worthy of death, feel authentic and strangely familiar. The sense of a tenuous but close-knit community threatened by its own ideals and the ways power is being allocated to deal with threats, internal and external, is recognizable and compelling.
This is not the first time Killjoy has explored an imagined anarchist society in her fiction, and as she did in A Country of Ghosts, she resists the urge to create a utopia. This community is more flawed and believable than that. Killjoy does not suggest that anarchism can or should create a world without problems, but she makes a continuous compelling argument that it can create something worthwhile. Think Le Guin’s The Dispossessed with punks and zombie bunny rabbits.
Think Le Guin’s The Dispossessed with punks and zombie bunny rabbits.
The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion is about a lot of things. It’s about alternatives to capitalism. It’s about idealism and realism, authority and self-determination, vengeance and personal responsibility. It’s a gothic American horror story, so it’s about nature, and the supernatural, and the guilt, the secrets, and the strength hiding in the heart of small communities. Also, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, it’s about 130 pages long, so there’s a lot packed in, but the pacing never feels rushed; it’s a great story told with directness and efficiency that nevertheless never feels short on description or emotional depth.
This story will stick with you in many ways, but what I keep coming back to right now, just an hour or so after finishing the book, is the way the characters’ politics inform every aspect of their decision-making. They never ask themselves or each other, “as anarchists, what do we do about this?” but they make their choices in a way that feels naturally rooted in their own understanding of a revolutionary ideology. Set that up as the background to an imaginative and suspenseful dark fantasy, and the result is a wonderfully compelling story. I sincerely hope that you read it.
The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion will be out on August 15, 2017. It can be pre-ordered from the collectively-run bookstore Red Emma’s. (Or, you know, regularly-ordered after August 15)