My Pet Serial Killer, by Michael J Seidlinger. Enigmatic Ink, 2013. 316 pages. $13.99, paper.
My Pet Serial Killer’s hyper-hip cover and cutesy name (a My Little Pony-quality endearment, tried and true) do a poor job of preparing the reader for the grotesqueries which will bombard him or her throughout. Set against a backdrop of clubbing and collegiate education, Seidlinger’s story revolves around Claire, a young female grad student, who picks up Victor, a serial killer, in a bar. Gradually, the story investigates—somewhat predictably—a relationship that is plagued with issues of power and sex and blood. But Seidlinger is not overcome by an urge to pander to the cliches of genre fiction; he is a literary man. In my post-reading haze, I have composed a list of questions answerable only by reading this novel:
1. Are all grad students insane and bloodthirsty?
What My Pet Serial Killer primarily serves to underscore is that the lead character, a criminal psychology grad student with a penchant for holding serial killers hostage, is hilariously representative of the entirety of the US’s grad student population. Claire’s fetishization of both murder and dominance feature heavily in the plot of the novel and are similarly echoed in the soulless men and women who haunt college campuses nationwide, writing theses, hiding severed ears in their canvas tote bags, and starting exaggerated and excessive brawls in locally owned coffeehouses. So yes, every single grad student is crazy and plotting your death! They are still mad about their GRE scores! They will never stop being mad about job placement! Don’t trust them! (Thankfully most grad students do not possess more physical strength than the ability to lift a small crate of oranges.)
Though colleges are too often the settings of contemporary novels (partially because they are so often the settings of contemporary authors’ lives), My Pet Serial Killer eschews the disgustingly kitschy potential of such a backdrop in favor of something more sinister. It’s an incidental element that makes the social commentary in the novel a bit more valid.
2. Is Michael J Seidlinger a serial killer?
Seidlinger’s work shows a steady fascination with the arduous yet too human task of composing and managing the public manifestation of one’s private life. He readily plays with the necessary ideal that most appearances are merely facades—this notion, of course, investigated in his smooth analysis of collegiate party culture and, even more obviously, in his meditations on the public operations of a serial killer. Seidlinger is good at this. Perhaps too good. Being Facebook friends with the man, I have been extremely weary of his social media activity in the days that followed my reading of his novel. A couple weeks ago he said something about a “novella.” Now I don’t know what that is, but it sounds dangerous. Cf. this status he posted several weeks back:
How hot would he make the water? Boiling?
Clearly such a realistic portrait of a serial killer couldn’t be penned by someone who hasn’t killed. If you see Michael J Seidlinger at AWP or something, be very very cautious; he has killed before and he will kill again.
3. Why is there so much damn blood on TV nowadays? It’s a lot of blood and I’m mad about it!
My Pet Serial Killer gives a bit of functionality to excessive blood and guts. The novel’s penchant for the gory and insufferable is certainly one born out of Seidlinger’s filmic urges. As visual artistic mediums amplify the degree to which society is exposed to violence, creative minds working with textual portrayals of society must inevitably follow suit. As a writer, Seidlinger’s incorporation of cinematic voyeurism is fairly obvious (by the end of the novel he’s cake-walking through the fourth wall), but the framing of certain murder scenes is impressively elegant. Disgusting? Yes, but gorgeously so. Periods of slaughter offer a strange lull from the tension in other parts of the novel; the excessive blood and violence function to soothe in moments of character chaos—they are nearly ironic in their utilized potential. Seidlinger writes blood for the sake of blood yet doesn’t allow this to be the consumptive purpose behind these images; this is where the novel becomes a work of literary prowess and not another genre piece. A novel about serial killers without the extensive amount of gore Seidlinger employs is certainly possible, but one wonders why anyone would pass up the opportunity to be so fully grossed out. Revel in the murder!
Cassandra Gillig is twenty and lives in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Her chapbook, The Cantos, is forthcoming from NAP. She blogs about poetry here.