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The Pain Eater Main

"The Pain Eater" Book Review

Written by Joe Haward

Published by CLASH Books

the pain eater kyle muntz poster large

Written by Kyle Muntz
2022, 264 pages, Fiction
Released on July 5th, 2022

Review:

The French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, said humanity was so filled with excess pain that it is trapped in the body, unable to escape. He linked this pain, and its attributes, to something of the order of ecstasy. Teresa of Ávila, a Spanish noblewoman and nun during the early 16th century, described in her autobiography an encounter with an angel, saying:

I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out…The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it.

Her description of pain, full of torture, pleasure, and eroticism, sings the same song as Kyle Muntz’s The Pain Eater.

Make no mistake, this is a captivating horror story – sharp with its insights into the human condition, superbly told, with characters that the reader wants to invest in – yet The Pain Eater, for those that want it to be, could also be a philosophical commentary upon suffering. It is a testament to Muntz’s skill and style as a writer that entertainment and depth can be seamlessly woven together.

The story opens with the Hanson brothers, Steven, the eldest, and teenager Michael, dealing with a moment of pain and tragedy as they say goodbye to their father, Lee. Muntz’s decision to begin The Pain Eater at a funeral service is a wonderful touch, framing the rest of the novel around ideas of pain, loss, and the ubiquitous disappointments of family life.

Michael Hanson oozes the realities of teenage life as angst, identity, sexual discovery, and inner reflection combine. His world is framed by self-reflective suffering, especially in light of his father’s death, yet Michael has always felt unsettled in the world and the relationships he is in. There are striking moments throughout where Michael considers the strangeness of human bodies in moments of intimacy, wondering how it is that flesh, blood, and bone can be desirable. Michael views the world through the eyes of someone who believes the world wears the cloak of an illusion, and any moment now it will be torn away, revealing what truly exists.

His older brother, Steven, is trying to hold everything together since their father’s death. Their mom and dad had already been divorced for a number of years, she now living with her new partner, Ben. So the three male Hanson’s lived together, until Lee’s death, leaving Steven responsible for Michael.

The dynamics of the family relationship play a significant part throughout The Pain Eater. This is what grounds the narrative so well as the reader can no doubt identify with the conversations, tensions, and arguments between the family, especially as they each process their own grief and trauma. And it is into this mix that the story becomes a creature horror book.

It is no surprise that Muntz uses death (specifically, the death of a cat) to bring to birth the mysterious creature that becomes central to Michael’s life. Out of death opportunities for healing begin to emerge. The creature, whatever it might be, seems to be able to take Michael’s pain and offer moments of euphoria.

The interaction of the creature, initially with Michael, his best friend, Halie, and then Steven, wrestles with ideas of addiction, initial highs, and then withdrawal. It is a clever play on how humans search for ways to rid themselves of pain, and the consequences that result in such strivings.

Halie is the strongest character in the story. Full of teenage confidence whilst also managing her own pain, yet carefree in the pursuit of her own desires; desires that sit awkwardly within Michael’s world. The dynamics between Halie and the two brothers are handled well by Kyle Muntz, the dialogue and depth of relationship wholly believable.

Much of The Pain Eater takes place within Steven and Michael’s home, rarely moving beyond those four walls. This adds to the growing claustrophobia and tension, with relational strains increasing as each character contemplates the strangeness of unfolding events.

There are moments whilst reading The Pain Eater that feel like the teenage discoveries of a Stephen King novel fused with the addictions and desires of a Chuck Palahniuk story. Yet this is very much Kyle Muntz’s story. And what a delight it is.

Grades:

Overall: 4 Star Rating Cover
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