The Soul Standard by Nik Korpon, Caleb J. Ross, Axel Taiari, and Richard Thomas
Genre: Noir & Crime
Published by: Dzanc Books
Release date: July 26, 2016
Soul Standard is a book encompassing four intertwining novellas, set in different areas of the same city, and in different seasons. Personally, I’d been waiting for about 4-5 years for this book, and while I’m late to the party it does not disappoint at all. I’ll break down my thoughts on each novella individually in the order of the book, and finalize my thoughts on the book overall.
Four Corners — Caleb J. Ross
Four Corners is set in the Financial District where paper currency is dying and is quickly being replaced with blackmarket organ trading/organ harvesting, Favors, and Juice – a cocktail of drugs hinted at having a science fictional inception. The story follows an accountant named Max where his past meets his present colliding with the ruthlessness of Max’s boss Mr. Reiss, a construction/financial mogul who has seedier ties to The City, and an old flame from his childhood. A story built on sin and how it’ll always catch up to you, like a hellhound. A lot of the world building for The City, and the following stories is centered here. An opener that’ll leave a hole in your gut.
Packed with great writing and incredibly interesting concepts like a man wrapping tape around his body so when he throws himself outside of a building his organs will still be intact for his family to harvest. Brutal stuff.
Punhos Sagrados — Nik Korpon
Punhos Sagrados is set in the Red Light District, and while this may get you thinking this will be a dark sex-filled story, it’s anything but. This tragedy laden story follows Marcel, bareknuckle boxer who’s heading towards a downward spiral in his fighting career doing anything he can to care for his mentally ill wife, Mona. All he wants is to make enough money to give Mona the proper care she deserves, and set them back on the path to a normal life. Enter Carissa, a bar-lounge singer who stirs things in Marcel he hasn’t felt in years. It all comes to head when Marcel take a side hustle with Carissa sending them both into a spiral neither will return whole from. It’s a surprisingly emotional story.
Nik’s writing is scalpel sharp, and in my opinion, he writes action like no other. A good chunk of the story revolves around Marcel’s time in the ring, and in the hands of a lesser writer this would flat on its face. Nik’s does not, and it makes the story all the more powerful.
Golden Geese — Richard Thomas
Golden Geese is set in the Outskirts, an area outside of the city filled with farmland and largely absent of people. It follows the story of Trevor, a man who is addicted to Juice and has come to the Outskirt to escape the repercussions from his past actions in The City. His job is mostly waste management…of the human variety. He is left packages—fingers, decapitated heads, ankles, feet, etc, and disposes them in a pig pen where the animals have a penchant for human meat and blood. It’s a nice homage to the Hannibal film (2001). The story expands upon on the established world building found in Four Corners touching on the shadows within the shadows such as the unspeakable crimes of The City, the origins of Juice, and the kinks of the rich and powerful of The City. It’s a story of man on his last legs, desperately looking for any measure of redemption. It’s one of the more violent, and grim/bleaker stories in Soul Standard.
Richard’s writing is sharp, although at times his prose feels a bit forced in the sense that it’s tailored to fit the bleak aesthetic of noir instead of the story doing that on its own. Bleakness for the sake of bleakness, as it were. Overall, the story is impressive in it’s use of violence, and the tenor of the voice carrying it throughout.
Jamais Vu — Axel Taiari
Jamais Vu is set in Ghost Town, a ghetto of sorts for The City. It follows Jules Lethe, a man searching for his missing daughter. This is made increasingly complicated because of the condition he suffers from: prosopagnosia, an inability to recognize faces. I don’t want to say too much about this story other because it NEEDS to be read. It’s one of the most emotionally impactful stories I’ve read in a very long time. It renders the unimaginable loss of a child real. A vitally powerful ending to an incredible book.
Phew…Axel’s writing here is just next level. His prose is layered with literary reference ranging from Sherlock Holmes, to Shakespeare, to Dante. You can find more about the references he tucked into his prose here.
Punhos Sagrados and Jamais Vu are my personal standouts of The Soul Standard. However, if any of these authors are new to you, then I think The Soul Standard is a good entry point for you to dig into. Each author’s distinct voice can be found here, and it’s a testament of their skill to pull off a shared world as interesting as this one. Each author has something unique and interesting to offer you as a reader, and you won’t be disappointed. This has all the smatterings of black, white, grey, and red you could possibly imagine. Bleak, violent, and noir as fuck it’s a collection unlike any other.
*For the future, will be grading reviews on a 10 point scale
**Bonus content I: a 4-essay article detailing how the book came to be, each author’s writing process, and building a shared world**
**Bonus content II: Booked. Podcast interviewed the four authors. Here is part 1 (with Caleb and Nik) and part 2 (with Richard and Axel)**