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Black Static

New Horror Fiction BLACK STATIC 82/83 OUT NOW

The Late Review: The Sadist's Bible

28th Jan, 2023

Author: Peter Tennant

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Yesterday I talked about James Lovegrove's Age of Satan in which he gave Old Nick's public image a makeover. In 2016 with The Sadist's Bible (01 Publishing) Nicole Cushing did a similar (dis)service for the God of Hosts.

The Sadist's Bible is told from the differing perspectives of the three lead characters. Ellie is an unhappily married native of the Bible Belt, who feels herself attracted to women, something that would horrify her husband and community. Online she meets Lori and agrees to meet her at a luxury hotel for a night of unbridled gay sex, after which they will both commit suicide. Lori is a young woman who is off her medication. She believes that God tortures and rapes her at regular intervals, and that deformed baby Joshua, who her mother looks after, is the offspring of one such event. Lori is set on a course of action that will condemn her to Hell, the only place where she thinks she'll be safe from God. And then there is God Himself, who is not at all pleased by Lori's attempt to renege on her agreement with Him.

Central to The Sadist's Bible is the figure of God. It's been a long time since I read anything by or about the Marquis de Sade, but I seem to recall that in his writing characters often expressed the opinion that our ideas about God might be completely wrong, that by looking at the death and destruction found in nature they saw an indication of God's true nature and wishes, which we as His creations should strive to fulfil. These are the ideas that Cushing explores in this novella. What if God was actually a force for evil, at least from a human perspective? How would He interact with His creations and what are His plans for us? In such circumstances how should we behave to stay in God's favour?

The result is a book that is very much in your face and not for the feint hearted or easily offended, with Cushing pulling no punches in her descriptions of sex, torture, and deformity, resulting in scenes that bring to mind the most grotesque images of Bosch and, naturally, the literary excesses of the Marquis himself. While there is a plot, a chain of events with cause and effect, at the same time there isn't any genuine tension, little or no element of doubt as to how it will all end. And how could there be given the omnipotence of God and the helplessness of His creations in the face of that? It is a book giving flesh to a controversial philosophy, but for the reader that philosophy is played out through character development and the similar but different rites of passage Ellie and Lori undergo.

Reminiscent of Sade's sisters Justine and Juliette, Cushing's Ellie and Lori are larger than life creations, both individuals and at the same time the embodiment of certain attitudes. Ellie feels herself to be trapped in a society that stifles her true nature, and although it goes entirely against all she has been taught, all the world holds as true, it's easy to see why the idea of a degenerate deity appeals to her, the freedom from guilt that such a revelation allows. Her transformation at the end of the book, the way in which she accepts and embraces cruelty, becoming an agent of suffering, is entirely in line with what Cushing shows us of her character. Contrarily, Lori made a deal with God, sought to become a bride of God in a very real and physical sense, not suspecting what it would involve. Subsequently she is dismissed as mentally challenged by society, becoming the horror cliché of the mad person who is actually the only one who knows how things really are. Lori's faith was misguided and results in her becoming an eternal victim.

The story rattles along at a ferocious pace, with Cushing playing true to the logic of her central concept and continually surprising us with yet another twist in the narrative, so that we can't really tell what is real and what is Lori's twisted fantasy. And the answer to that question appears to be, though we might well wish otherwise, that it is all real, everything is taking place exactly as described with no wriggle room or get out of gaol free card. Cushing's God torments His characters without let. At bottom He is a comic caricature God, cruel and amoral, or rather upending our popular concepts of morality, claiming that the Biblical message was distorted by those with a vested interest in gentle Jesus, meek and mild, with the truth something else entirely. 

The end result of all this is a bravura performance by a writer who is fearless in her imagining, who dares to gift us an interpretation of reality that, by any conventional standard, is unremittingly bleak and without hope. So, if you want to see what the horror genre is capable of when it accepts no limitations, then get this book. And if you're in any way religious, just keep telling yourself it's only a story. If not, then it doesn't really matter  - according to The Sadist's Bible we're buggered anyway.





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