By Ben Arzate
Human population has accelerated to the point of complete unsustainability. Mass murder, starvation, and abject conditions have become common place. Kaal, a professor, takes shelter in a luxury tower. There, he watches a long piece of video art which explores the installment art piece PsychoBarn as well as several murders. The whole time, the world continues to fall apart outside.
“Who can say in the history of this planet that they’ve sat in a sun-lounger 1,450 ft. up, swigging from a ₹20,000 bottle of Cognac as they watch the Arabian sea turn slowly pink with blood?”
Terminal Park is told in a mostly non-linear way with no chapter breaks. Each section jumps between scenes of the world collapsing, Kaal’s story, and sections of the 195 Days… video art piece. Many of the sections also include philosophical digressions on Julia Kristeva’s theories on the nature of abjection and on the themes of Alfred Hitchcock’s film Psycho.
Shipley’s depictions of bodies on top of bodies, mass shootings, rot, flies, and insanity are appropriately horrifying. One moment that sticks out in my mind is when an unnamed influencer goes on an insane rant on camera about the awful state of the world before committing suicide. The scenes become more fantastic as the book progresses, including a part where it’s shown that the mass death and quick births are causing humans to evolve into non-human creatures.
Kaal’s storyline, by contrast, is reminiscent of a Don Delillo novel. There’s very little action, outside of him breaking into the luxury tower, and most of it consists of passively taking in the video art of NB, the artist behind 195 Days…, and trying to make sense of it. It dovetails into discussions of works (both real and imagined) related to Psycho, including 195 Days… PsychoBarn, a real piece by Cornelia Parker, is the most prominent. However, while the real PsychoBarn is a sculpture, a recreation of the Bates house with barn wood, NB is able to enter it and explore the inside. There are also mentions of the Gus Van Sant remake and a one-minute version of the film. The latter, as far as I can tell, does not exist as described in this book, though a search did turn up a YouTube video with the title. It seems to be a reference to an actual piece of art called 24 Hour Psycho.
The intertextual interrogation of Psycho doesn’t come in until later in the novel and seems to have little direct relation, though it has some thematic relation, to the apocalypse happening outside of Kaal’s tower. This is even commented on when Kaal contemplates the possibility of Psycho being the reason for the world ending, but quickly dismisses it as seeing patterns where they don’t exist.
I can imagine someone picking this up and expecting a strange apocalyptic story reading this and being disappointed in the change to a surreal work of film theory-fiction. This was something that I certainly didn’t expect going in. However, I still found it to be an engaging work and I left it finding that I wanted to re-watch Psycho and finally pick up Kristeva’s Powers of Horror.
Terminal Park is a very odd work. Even as a fan of experimental fiction, it took me some effort to wrap my head around it. It’s a fascinating mixture of horror, apocalypse, and theory-fiction. It’s hard to recommend it, as it fills a very specific niche. However, if you’re seeking a challenging work and you have an interest in contemporary art, semiotics, and horror films and literature, this is the perfect book for you.
Ben Arzate lives in Des Moines, IA. His articles, reviews, short stories, and poetry have appeared in various places online and in print. He is a regular contributor to Cultured Vultures and is the author of two poetry books (the sky is black and blue like a battered child and dr. sodom and mrs. gomorrah, feel bad all the time), one book of short stories (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye, NihilismRevised), and two novels (The Story of the Y, Cabal Books and Elaine, Atlatl Press). Find him online at dripdropdripdropdripdrop.blogspot.com.