Christopher Lee's "The Archaeologists" is the first in a series of short stories that I believe are meant to make up one longer story. I was intrigued by the opening and by the style, but turned off by the gratuitous language and bizarre sexual content. Language and sex don't usually bother me, but very few writers go to the extent that Lee does here in less than 40 pages of work. Perhaps Quentin Tarantino has him beat on language, but even movie director Kevin Smith is put to shame by the sexual content, and that's even after you include Zack and Miri Make a Porno and a choice scene with a donkey in Clerks 2. In a way I wish "The Archaeologists" wasn't a serial but that Lee had published the entire story because I may have enjoyed it more that way.
The premise is that a group of friends are about to meet up at a diner for their annual get together. Henry arrives first. He's married, a successful businessman (or so it seems), and as cynical as a word that rhymes with luck. He seems to hate the dinner, so why go? The problem is he doesn't much like John. He used to think John was something of a saint, as John once promised he would save the world. But John became an alcoholic, and his presence is more depressing than anything. John and Henry start to have conversations, and these are interrupted by John's flashbacks with a woman he was involved with. This woman is Michelle, a sweet Christian girl whose life is apparently ruined by this one-night stand. Well, ruined is an understatement. Somehow she accepts her fate, but I won't go there.
I saw promise in the idea of a dinner conversation between long-time friends. However, the conversation never really takes off, and just as it's about to, the story ends. A lot of time is spent on John's flashbacks, which are a little confusing. During his first flashback, I wasn't sure whether John was at his place or hers due to some contradictory details. Bits and pieces of the story also seemed more abstract than literal, and I wasn't really sure what to think of that. For example, at one point there is mention of a hidden pistol pointed at someone's chest, and this left me entirely confused. Lee's world seems populated by people who are so much on edge they're about ready to snap at the slightest provocation, such as boredom. I admit that seems to reflect, to a degree, the world we live in today, what with the numerous mass shootings that have happened over the past decade and a half, but the pistol reference in the story comes out of nowhere. Also, the dialogue was difficult to follow. I had troubles keeping track of the speaker, and this was made even more difficult by the use of an ellipsis as dialogue.
The style of the story intrigued me. It's set up like a play but written like a short story, in a stream-of-conscious-type style, with the narration entirely in the head of the speaker. I assume the story is commenting on the dark secrets people conceal from the rest of the world. And yes we all have secrets and we're all capable of evil, though perhaps the evil portrayed in this is a bit exaggerated. Or maybe it's wrong of me to see it as an extension of all of us. Perhaps these are just warped individuals. I don't really know. I wish the story had skipped some of the more graphic content (it might have improved from a few sections removed) and got to the point a little faster. Lee sets up a cliffhanger that implies there's much more about John than we know, but the problem is the story ends just as it's getting interesting. I find it difficult to recommend the story on the content alone, though if you're brave it's a very short read (maybe half an hour of your time) and it's currently free for the Kindle, according to Amazon. Curiosity compels me to check out volume two, though another voice inside me says no.
(I received a link to a free e-copy of Christopher Lee's story in exchange for an honest review)