Somewhere between dystopian novel and offbeat character study lies A Message From The Slave State. The story's plotlines are more disjointed than a six hour game of Twister. The point-of-view switches often between characters both major and minor, chiefly following an old lush as he drinks himself into oblivion and a young man on a mission to murder.
At first, the unique formatting of the book was so seamlessly woven into the pages that I failed to see its intent and thought it was a mistake. As I read further, though, I realized that the formatting was key to helping the reader keep track of all the characters, as it changes depending on who's perspective you are reading from. The formatting creates a poetic visual for the individual's thoughts, dialogue, and actions. You recognize characters before you even begin reading the words.
This is the first story I've read by the author, Chris Kelso, and now am curious to discover more by him. His prose dealing with one of the protagonist's wicked spiraling in his alcohol addiction is quite thought provoking. Nothing is held back when revealing the depths of darkness a person can fall into if they allow it.
The cherry on top in this book comes in the form of the societal standards of the world. Mr. Kelso manages to create a world that feels vaguely similar to our own without going into parody or satire territory. That isn't an easy thing to do, but never in the book do you get the feeling that anything is being made fun of. Rather, the world is stripped bare and shown in patches through the dim light of a enslaved humanity. It is a restrictive world where even traveling to a different county elicits suspicion, and whether it be revenge, booze, or the State itself, everyone finds there is something in life they must call master.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Chris Kelso is a writer, associate editor at Dog Horn Publishing, and the co-founder of the Anti-New Yorker print magazine, Imperial Youth Review. He lives in Scotland.