How far would you go for the one you love...?
...What is the price of obsession? Individually, these questions form the foundation for any number of novels, but in the right hands they can be twisted together into wholly new beasts. Preston Fassel attempts to mold just such a creature with his new novel, Beasts of 42nd Street, and succeeds with just the kind of panache and viscera trailing along in his wake of which he has proven himself uniquely capable.
Where his debut novel, Our Lady of the Inferno, offered heart and moments of levity in an otherwise dark world soaked in death and grime so palpable you almost felt the need to shower after reading, Beasts offers just as much darkness with none of the light. Fassel’s love for both the horror genre and the seedy underbelly of New York city is splattered across every page, and his ability to take repulsive subject matter and turn it into propulsive reading is on full display here.
Andrew Lewinski, better known to acquaintances and enemies as Andy Lew, is at once a figure of mythic proportion and little more than a desperate man on a constant search for fulfillment. Projectionist of the Colossus Theater and burnout among burnouts, he is obsessed with the darkest sides of humanity. When he learns of a film reel that promises to satisfy even his sickest tastes, he swears to do anything to get his hands on it. Years after a Faustian bargain he just might live to regret, his entire life is wholly consumed with learning about and tracking down the forbidden film’s subject: the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen, subjected over and over again to a scenario worthy of The Poughkeepsie Tapes.
More than just one’s man’s obsessive pursuit of the unattainable, Beasts is a somewhat timely, savage examination of extreme fandom, entitlement, and the nature of attraction to the darker side of the curtain. My personal favorite subject on Fassel’s blood-drenched chopping block is the novel’s cult. By turns terrifying and ridiculous, in a work populated almost exclusively by the world’s most unlikeable cast you can’t help but keep watching, they provide some much needed—albeit pitch black—humor that skewers every cult you’ve ever heard of in one fell swoop.
Positioned within the same universe as Our Lady of the Inferno, Beasts’ characters and world feel just as fully realized as Fassel’s debut, and just as unapologetically dirty. Indeed, even the one bright moment of 42nd Street’s humanity from which the novel pulls its name is cloaked in a literal blackout, seen only by those who are accustomed to its darkness.
Fassel’s gift for weaving stories of society’s forgotten members into something at once uncomfortable and unforgettable continues in Beasts in a way that feels heightened beyond his previous effort. It’s easy to balance the good and bad sides of human nature against one another. It’s a whole other fight to build something so compulsively readable exclusively out of the parts of our nature we would rather forget, and he pulls it off with demonic flair and grace. I found myself devouring the whole novel in as close to one sitting as I could manage because, while Andy Lew is decidedly, grotesquely irredeemable, I had to know what happened next. Where did he get this mysterious film reel? Where is this girl he’s obsessed with? What happens if/when he finds her? All this and more ran through my head with every page. I felt compelled to know more about this man and his world and found myself hoping against all odds for some goodness, even as I knew the likelihood of its existence was almost nil.
Fassel’s dedication to telling the stories of the people society would prefer to turn a blind eye to is admirable, even as he tells them through horror’s lens—the only one best equipped to understand them and give them the proper space to spread their gory wings, and he proves time and again he has the talent to do such stories justice.
Look out for Beasts of 42nd Street coming March 23, 2023 from Cemetery Dance. In the meantime, seek out the rest of his work spotlighting the diversely disturbing 42nd Street. You won’t be disappointed.
By Katelyn Nelson