My Pet Serial Killer
by Michael Seidlinger
Enigmatic Ink, 2013
312 pages / $13.99 Buy from Amazon
Some people raise cats and dogs. Claire, the protagonist of Michael Seidlinger’s My Pet Serial Killer, raises serial killers. Caged within the pages of the book is the ‘Gentlemen Killer,’ his gallery of helpless women, and a whole panoply of cultural idiosyncrasies that seem strangely alien when viewed through the cool detachment of Claire. Claire is an experienced collector who dissects social rituals with the vivifying apathy of a biologist. I’ve read a lot of serial killer books in the past two years, most trying to differentiate themselves by latching onto a more unusual gimmick. My Pet Serial Killer distinguishes itself with a unique foray into the world of mass murderers that’s best encapsulated by Claire’s proposition to the Gentlemen Killer: “I support you financially. I give you a place to hide. I make sure you are never under suspicion of being what you really are, a cold-blooded psychotic killer (so hot), and, in return, you clue me into your process. You become mine.”
The prose flows in a conversational rhythm and her tone remains relatively level throughout, despite the fact that she is describing horrific scenes of murder. The macabre episodes are lent an especially disturbing tone because of the way Claire chastises her pet for not carrying out the murders in an optimal way. She treats him like a puppy gone awry and complains about him like an unruly boyfriend: “He doesn’t want instruction but, as master, I feel like I need to show him how it’s supposed to be done. He’s too lenient on method and MO. No wonder we find ourselves needing to find patsies covering our tracks every few girls.”
Interspersed within the narrative are italicized segments that are described as “optional” but provide deeper insight into the issues at stake and break apart traditional relationships. Targeted are friendships, classmates, strangers at parties, lovers, master and pet, and even reader and author. Claire refuses to reveal her name to Victor, AKA the Gentlemen Killer, who is a suave and dashing man that can woo almost any woman into bed. She’s less impressed by him, especially after her initial exhilaration dies down: “I’m quickly discovering he’s not much of a talker after he’s exhausted all introductions and quick casual lines. Everything’s practiced until he’s out of memorized and rehearsed material. He’s awkward at his most pure, and he’s incapable of matching my gaze when I’m still there looking for more… So I’m the one that has to tell him what to do. I’m telling him to go into his room.”
This leads to a very strange dynamic. Their duality becomes a power struggle between the killer, who wants more independence, and Claire, who wants to exert her control. She utilizes cameras and phone calls to screw with the Gentlemen Killer’s mind, even taking the corpses without his knowing it. He responds with what comes across as petty tantrums that are used by Claire to elicit test tube responses, all of which she is recording and analyzing for her daytime job as “professional student.” She’s already been through this cycle multiple times, as is evidenced by her skillful disposal of the bodies and her ability to canvas a murder scene and recognize all the problems: “I’ve been attacked. I’ve been strangled. I’ve been in that position of having to give chase to one that simply ran and ran and ran… but they all end with the same image: A mystery wrapped around a serial killer image where the killer seemingly ends its own life.”
The more disturbing question that keeps on coming to mind is, who is she telling all of this to? Is her prey the attractive women the Gentlemen Killer is hunting, the Gentlemen Killer himself, or more disturbingly, us, the reader? As Claire surrounds the killer with cameras, she too is allowing us to watch her life, though in edited clips she determines. There are even questions of whether this really happened or is all in her mind. The ambiguity of the answers isn’t so much a commentary on an untrustworthy narrator as it is the reader who will believe anyone with a calm, charming voice. As two confused guys at a night club are told: “You just witnessed the death of women. You are accessories to their murder.” Voyeurism never seemed so sinister.
I’m scared of Michael Seidlinger. In his previous book, Sky Conducting, he used the apocalypse to tear apart the American Dream. Now, he’s carefully propping it back up for us only to take away the veil and make us realize we’re in a cage of his design. As one of the characters comments: “I think the real killer is a window into our lives.” Seidlinger has shredded all the curtains and all we have left are our bare corpses to hide behind.
Peter Tieryas Liu has a book about serial killers called The Wingless coming out from Signal 8 Press in 2014. His recent collection of short stories, Watering Heaven, was one of the 100 best selling short story collections on Amazon in early 2013. You can follow his work at tieryas.wordpress.com.