In Disintegration by Richard Thomas, the breakdown of the mind is represented in his breakdown of language, a lexicon of destruction, dissipation, and dissolution. Violence is both lyrical and jarring, and Thomas burns our ears, scorching expectations. There’s a visceral, gut-wrenching intensity that wracks at readers in short throbs that would be overwhelming if not for their poetic evisceration. Lust consumes, rage devours, loneliness pervades. The melancholy whispers of regret haunt the narrator, fueling his assassinations. In the process, even food is corrupted in shades of the macabre, bacon and toast triggering memories of murder:
“I study the Rorschach on my plate- it’s a bent arm, a torn skirt, a splatter of gunshot, and I can’t swallow.”
In some sense, Disintegration is an autopsy, only the cadaver is still perambulating, a killer on rails, pulsing with undead ferocity. It’s reminiscent of another violent noirish romp, Hotline Miami, a video game that revolutionized the scene with its garish colors that pushed the boundaries of storytelling through its visual canvas. In both, the protagonist is given a target (by envelope in Disintegration and phone call in HM). In both, someone else’s death is the irredeemable redemption, pushing them towards an unseen goal. Conscience and morality aren’t just shown the exit. They’re riddled with bullets and buried alive. Vlad is the Mephistopheles to Disintegration’s Faust, but what does a man whose soul has already been sucked dry by tragedy offer?
“I’ve lost track of how many people I’ve killed. Many of the faces are lost to me as well. They should resonate, shouldn’t they, these lives I’ve taken?”
The geography of Disintegration’s Chicago is bleak, fierce, and unforgiving. It’s the destitution of a man grasping at the outskirts, a no hands barred, unrelenting descent into insanity. It can be a brutal ride if you’re not prepared, as divisive as the events that take place. There are times where you will question the unnamed narrator and even be disgusted. His breakdown is graphic and disturbing. Thomas takes us to dark depths and makes sure we don’t leave unscathed. Disintegration would be impossible otherwise. It’s only after a dive into the hellish nightmare of the “Windy City” that there’s a scent of hope for resuscitation.
“I was a ghost, a skeletal frame of bones and sweat, a distraction for a night, barely something to cling to in the dark, a blank canvas on which to project whoever it was that they actually desired… I was a way station, a stopping-off point, to fill up and get off and move on.”
The way station has many connecting destinations. His lovers and “friends” are puppets of a deeper symptom, a malaise that mars the core of existence. From the moment we’re born, we’re dying, disintegrating. Thomas reminds us that to embrace or to reject the fundamental madness is irrelevant; rather to survive, to endure, to somehow find one’s way into making sense of the ruins.