Review: Three Hundred Million: A Novel- Blake Butler

Title: Three Hundred Million: A Novel
Author: Blake Butler
Publication Date: 14 October 2014
ISBN: 0062271857
Pages: 464
Genre: Horror, Psychological Thriller,
Format: Paperback
Add it: Goodreads
Buy it: Amazon|Book Depository

An unforgettable novel of an American suburb devastated by a fiendish madman—the most ambitious and important work yet by “the 21st century answer to William Burroughs” (Publishers Weekly).

Blake Butler’s fiction has dazzled readers with its dystopian dreamscapes and swaggering command of language. Now, in his most topical and visceral novel yet, he ushers us into the consciousness of two men in the shadow of a bloodbath: Gretch Gravey, a cryptic psychopath with a small army of burnout followers, and E. N. Flood, the troubled police detective tasked with unpacking and understanding his mind.

A mingled simulacrum of Charles Manson, David Koresh, and Thomas Harris’s Buffalo Bill, Gravey is a sinister yet alluring God figure who enlists young metal head followers to kidnap neighboring women and bring them to his house—where he murders them and buries their bodies in a basement crypt. Through parallel narratives, Three Hundred Million lures readers into the cloven mind of Gravey—and Darrel, his sinister alter ego—even as Flood’s secret journal chronicles his own descent into his own, eerily similar psychosis.

A portrait of American violence that conjures the shadows of Ariel Castro, David Koresh, and Adam Lanza, Three Hundred Million is a brutal and mesmerizing masterwork, a portrait of contemporary America that is difficult to turn away from, or to forget.

My Thoughts

That summary doesn’t really leave you much to go on, only that you’re definitely in for a very interesting ride. But, after reading the book, there is no way to properly summarize exactly what’s going on without giving away large portions of the entirety of the work.

I initially picked up this book thinking that it would be more suspense and horror than it would be complete psychological thriller. I was completely wrong. This book is mostly psychological thriller with sprinkles of horror and some suspense here and there. The novel is broken up into five parts which I felt added to a level of suspense that otherwise would not have been present in the novels. There were large portions in nearly all five parts that are written entirely in stream- of- consciousness and gave a strange insight into the serial killer, Gravey/Darrel, and also depicted the unraveling of the “narrator” Detective Flood.

Because of the stream- of- conscious style in these sections, there is a serious lack of punctuation which is completely understandable (that’s just how stream- of- conscious works) but just feels like it consumes the entire novel. It was frustrating to read because of the strangeness and lack of sense in the thought process of Gravey/Darrel and because when people are going insane- like Detective Flood- not a lot of there thoughts make sense either. What I did think was very interesting about the use of stream- of- conscious was that it was obvious how unhinged Detective Flood was becoming from the beginning to the end.

But that’s all the “good” I can say about this novel. I believe that Butler was attempting to convey his ideas about the destructiveness of America but that did not come across very clearly. I spent the majority of the novel being utterly confused by what was happening and by the middle I was quite literally counting the number of pages until it was over. The use stream- of- conscious to understand a psychological break or the thoughts of a serial killer really destroyed any hope of getting the theme across. This was mostly due to the fact that there was very little context on either Detective Flood or Gravey/Darrel- readers are just thrust into this world of complete insanity.Butler attempted a piece of literature that I believe, with a little more context, would have really explored the idea of the horrors of America.

The saving grace to this novel was the scenes about the murder. They were incredibly written, extremely detailed, horrific in the best way possible, and a lovely break from the craziness of stream- of- conscious. Another thing that gave the novel a higher star was the incredibly dark and terrifying descriptions of the minds of these two men. It was as if Blake had taken the mind of a serial killer and spilled it onto the pages of a book. It was an extraordinary amount of detail and emotions that Blake managed to convey from the specific allusions and words that he chose to use.

Overall this novel was a far cry from the amazing piece of artwork that I was expecting. Despite the fact that my expectations went unmet, I was pleasantly surprised by the level of horror and utter disgust, again in the best way possible, that I felt towards these characters. This novel has got me thinking about finding another oddly philosophical, psychological thriller to read. And maybe someday I’ll reread this one and have a better understanding of what’s going on. However, I do not think I would recommend this to anyone whose never read a psychological thriller because this a bad introductory novel. If you are looking for something that’s going to completely bend your mind, make your brain hurt, and create a sick feeling in your stomach then this is certainly the book for you.

Rating 2.5 star


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