The Book Of
by Frank Peak
(Apocalypse Confidential, 2023)

Every American epoch has its own monster. The immediate afterglow of the atomic pulverization of Japan in 1945 produced a paranoia about radiation, mutation, and physical degeneration. Hence, the bobbysoxers and boys in duck-ass hairdos went to the drive-ins to watch movies about ants turned into mega monsters thanks to atomic testing. Even when the monsters were more familiar, like vampires or werewolves, mad science entered into the equation. The monster known as the scientific method frightened the Boomers, and with good reason.

Next, after Cold War liberalism supposedly jumped the shark in Vietnam, the American people voted for more pedestrian, but socially pressing monsters. Sibilating aliens became old hat. Chainsaw-wielding maniacs and hippie commune death cults were in. A big part of this was due to fears born of urban riots, a rising tide of crime, and the new figure of the serial killer. Another reason was the simple acceptance of nuclear holocaust as part and parcel of living inside of a superpower.

Since the dawn of the 2010’s, American horror has been possessed by demonomania. The Conjuring Universe and contemporary fare like Smile and The Pope’s Exorcist continue to rake in lucre at the box office with stories about demonic possession and the vile realities of black magic. The continuing culture war is the usual explainer for this continued insistence on supernatural evil. After all, the Trump phenomenon did unleash a type of de-centralized Protestantism with QAnon, online theories, and a whole lot of plan trusting becoming The Word for millions. In a similar vein, rumblings of Christian nationalism and the growing push-back against transgenderism has seen some on the left openly embrace diabolism (the very liberal Satanic Temple has been at the forefront of a lot of left-wing social causes lately). One hears a lot about Carl Schmitt these days and his friend/enemy distinction, but few know that Herr Schmitt recognized an even worse alternative: human/inhuman. Could the rise of demonic horror movies bespeak of a growing trend towards dehumanization among the cultural warriors? The rise in prominence of demonic horrors would also lead one to believe that a Third Great Awakening is underway in These United States. However, all signs point to predominate secularism, especially among the youth. So, what the hell is going on?

Frank Peak’s slim novel, The Book Of, will not answer that question. It will not answer any question. Rather, this book is all about dislocation. The first ever publication by Apocalypse Confidential, an online magazine which has somehow distinguished itself as the beacon of the so-called Weird Right without being an explicitly political publication at all, The Book Of is in-keeping with the imprint’s preference for sub-normal behavior and gonzo writing. In fact, after having read the whole thing, I am still not quite sure what it is about.

The Book Of is a disjointed collection (or compendium) of interconnected stories. The characters, some of whom have actual names like Samuel, Ignatius, and Burgess, while others are known as Hat or Honest, seem to work in a murky netherworld of demonic executions. The clearest evidence of this is contained with the “Gang of 21” section, where a fellow named Gus shoots a convenience store customer point-blank in front of an overly medicated case named Carl. The bald beast is killed for being a fallen angel, which, as Gus kind of explains, is different from a demon. But rather than elaborate exposition of the kind one would expect in an ostensible horror novel, Gus offers Carl something worthy of working man: “Don’t worry about it. Not your problem. Not even my problem. It’s some middleman’s problem, and those guys couldn’t give fuck one about our concerns.” Not even my problem, says the demon hunter Gus.

The demon hunters like Gus may or may not have rivals. These demon hunters are always circling after each other, with bars and dank apartments being the preferred meeting spots. The police certainly do not like them, and at least one lover goes murder-mad when the hunter’s secret employment is revealed.

The Book Of is a complex narrative, to be sure, but also a simple one. It is a streetwise exploration of liminal-type people working well below the acceptable economy. Contributing to this sense of dislocation is Peak’s utter refusal to give any real explanations. Even the scene with Gus and Carl is complicated by Carl’s status as a mental patient. This novel moves from scene to scene with only the barest connecting threads. Somebody is always meeting someone. Someone is always drinking alcohol or coffee. And, most importantly, somebody is always reading an ancient paperback. What it all means is anyone’s guess.

That is the ultimate “so what?” of Frank Peak’s novel. It offers a glimpse into a secretive world, and for the most part, those secrets are kept, especially from the reader. Heck, at one point, I was halfway convinced that the demon hunters were actually demons wearing righteousness as a hollowed-out skinsuit. That interpretation is perfectly possible, mind you, but it is probably not the right one. The Book Of is an occult ritual onto itself, with “occult” retreating to its basest meaning of “unknown” and “hidden.”

I encourage you to read The Book Of. I encourage you to support Apocalypse Confidential. I encourage all this and more. Finally, I encourage you to write to me and tell me what you think of The Book Of.

I just want to feel less lonely and dumb.

Click here to buy The Book Of.