There are a lot of things one might say about David McLean’s new collection, Hellbound, including “don’t read this before you go to sleep.” But the one word that came back to me again and again was inescapable. There is a setting for this book, based largely on the cult horror movie Hellraiser (1987), and McLean constantly makes references to the movie, its characters, and the overall plot. I’ve never seen the movie; therefore, I felt as if I needed to research it. Which, I did. I have to admit it never would have occurred to me to write a collection of poems so closely wed to a Clive Barker film. Original. But, I wanted to believe that there was more to the poems than references to a flick and I needed to feel that I could read the book without seeing or knowing anything about Hellraiser. So I read the book trying to find the poetry behind the words, without the horror. It was hard, but in the end, I did find what I was looking for.
The first poem that struck me for its meaning and individuality was called the worst hell:
the worst hell for a devil
is one where eyes are sewn shut
so you cannot see the suffering you inflict
on others. the worst hell for a lover
is when the loved one never suffers.
I liked this one, because there were no references to meat, blood, hooks, chains, Cenobites, or Pinhead. This poem easily stands alone and captures a feeling I’ve known. So, there is humanity in the book after all. But, there is also a lot of inhumanity. Many of the poems delve further and deeper into the concept of Hell, suffering, and the reader is invaded by a thoroughly convincing sense of nihilism. McLean is effective in creating this hopeless atmosphere and twists his hooks a little bit more every chance he gets. Again, the theme is inescapable. But, in exposing so much inhumanity, he is making a point. Much of humanity is inhumane. Clever.
And, there are other shining moments.
In a number of poems he explores our concepts of good and evil, then he shuns them as relative terms, and looks harder at topics like innocence, children, Heaven, and God. This book takes on a philosophical bent as McLean dissects who we are and what we are, what moral battles we fight (and ultimately lose) and how Hell is a concept (even an existence) we create, not necessarily a place where we go. In a sense, it is something to which we are literally bound. Interesting.
To be honest, at first I found it hard to get past the horror hyperbole of the book, but once I knew what to look for, I found and enjoyed the serious thought and observation that went into this creation. It is not a monster read, it is not a cult movie pastiche, rather it is an exploration of humanity’s darker side (although, like good and evil, light and dark are relative, and as McLean might put it, such maudlin introspection and comparison is boring) so I came to appreciate its breadth and scale of thought instead. I personally think the collection would be stronger without the movie references, but that is my small opinion. There is more than enough in there to set the mind in motion and to ask questions about our own perceptions of who and what we seem to be, and even more importantly, where we are going with this thing called life. Oblivion, Heaven, or Hellbound?
Opinion: Fine Read
-reviewed by GJ
Opinion: Fine Read
-reviewed by GJ