By Matty Byloos


Small Doggies Press
May 2014

Reviewed by Lavinia Ludlow


"Some people, you give 'em enough rope, and they hang themselves."

Rope is a fantastically grotesque tale of how mankind's barbarisms have led to extreme terrestrial and social decay. The earth has been ravaged by extreme climates, and is now an uninhabitable desert wasteland. Las Vegas has taken over four states, and its casinos and accompanying hotels have infected the west coast like a plague. Animals freely roam the streets, houses, and public spaces, and the only other city known to exist on the North American continent is Detroit.

After years of drought, the cities suffer a torrential downpour followed by a "plague" of spiders and bees, as if nature is taking back what humanity had pillaged for hundreds of years. Ominous bombs go off in the distance, the suicidal hang out at a bar named The Rope and slurp down drinks by the same name, and every so often a fleeting image, like a girl wearing a piece of burnt rope for a necklace, sets the scene with a creepy and dark undertow of foreshadowing,

Eventually, a one-man motorcycle gang rides into town to end life for everyone. A literal anti-Christ, he is a savior that brings forth salvation through influential messages of destruction and death. Like a cult leader, "He rode in to tell everybody what was what, to tell everyone that no more sons would ever be born, and that life as they once knew it, was finally over." He infiltrates the media with ominous messages such as "Don't forget to die" and hijacks the TV stations with streaming video of a clock ticking down the world's last moments and a low-budget "murder show" wherein contestants are gruesomely killed on camera.

As the end of the world creeps nearer, many exhibit outlandish behaviors: the town butcher begins eating household pets, a grandmother makes her family write swastikas on everything, and pilots take down planes filled with people. Others fall into a psychosis of pure hedonism:

And anyone they'd ever wanted to do anything to, in the way of violence or just plain bodily trespassing, or what any normal person would consider sinful, or a boundary never to be crossed; and whatever chemical mixtures they'd always been told not to ingest for the sake of their sanity or of their continued health — they just went ahead and did whatever it was they wanted to. They transgressed. They disobeyed boundaries. They disregarded the law. Made new rules and then broke those too. And this was the way things went in those final days. They went from one unreality, straight into pure and total fantasyland.

With all evidence of religion erased, with politics "hopeless in the absence of imagination," and with nothing else to do and nowhere else to go, the miserable, apathetic, and easily-distracted specimens of society engage in all the standard biblical sins — divorce, abortion, murder, and suicide. An interpretive glimpse into the future of a world plagued with self-hatred and ambivalence, Rope tells a story of a motherless society that turns victim to its barbaric and carnal instincts, thus creating a deadly self-fulfilling prophecy.

Rope isn't without Byloos' classic, bizarre, avant-garde touch. There are quotes from Charles Manson, obscure chapter titles like "but panty sales had always been final," and lots of dark comedy. Everything works well for the story's depressing plot as it explores one of the darkest corners of the human condition. Whether paranormal activity or a cultish mindset that spreads like wildfire and wakes the Devil in everyone, all agendas center on the single notion of suicide.

Byloos' writing has matured over the years into prose of unparalleled quality. His narrative is savage yet beautiful, satirical yet evocative. Each passage reads as if he precisely hand-placed every word, sentence, and paragraph beside one another like thousands of mosaic tiles:

The rains stopped and the sky opened up yellow and clean, like a melon under the certainty of a very sharp knife. The air had the sweetness of tears to it, and for the first time, a quiet fell out of somewhere and covered everything again.

What tops off this dark tale is Byloos' author's note. Hardly just a responsible disclaimer, he fervently and beautifully advocates for the continuous exploration of ourselves and for persevering over what haunts us.

This is not a book that is advocating suicide as a physical act of one's will. This book is not intended, in any way, to be encouraging to anyone considering suicide.

Instead, this book should be seen as a different call to action, and in that way, a kind of suicide is certainly being discussed, and even lobbied for. But this call to action involves the killing of any and all received knowledge, for all individuals.

Assume nothing. Question everything. Make your own way in the world. Kill off whatever is inside of you that you didn't put there in the first place, and fill yourself only with the wisdom that you have come to know and trust through your own experience and judgment.