Matt Forney
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Heart Killer by Andy Nowicki

heart-killerWould it be hyperbole to claim that I feel a little raped by this novel?

But in all seriousness, Heart Killer is probably the most gripping work of fiction published in the past year. Beyond being an evolution in Andy Nowicki’s storytelling, Heart Killer is absolutely required reading for manospherians for its psychological insight into male and female sexuality. Just be forewarned: even if you’ve read Nowicki’s previous books, Heart Killer takes things to another level of sickness.

The story concerns FBI profiler Frances Lazarus, who is dispatched to Atlanta in 1987 to investigate a potential serial killer at the prestigious Cordelia Academy high school, after a wave of young girls are found dead from being shot through the heart. While there, she meets Johann Salvadorus, a bizarre, dorky student who she suspects to be the “Cordelia Heart-Killer.” Reading through his personal journal, she discovers that he is a middle-aged man in a teenager’s body, inexplicably sent back in time after spending his life becoming a ruthless player and Casanova:

In front of me, as expected, stood Frieda, done up like a fantasy prom date, in a skimpy red minidress. She didn’t apologize for showing up unannounced; that would have been too much like her mousy old “nice girl” self. I had ceased to be her friend and confidant, and had instead become a pawn, a means of obtaining comeuppance against her faithless husband. Standing in an alluring pose, the hint of a smile animating her painted face, she asked if she could come in. I opened the door, and asked how she’d found my apartment. She said she had her ways, and I replied that I didn’t doubt it. Her smile widened, almost imperceptibly, at that. Then I asked if I could do anything for her, which prompted her to get right to the point.

“You can fuck me, good and long,” she said softly.

The novel oscillates between four different perspectives: Lazarus’ own, Johann’s (via his journal), and two unnamed third-person narrators who describe the aftermath of their encounter. This is easily one of Heart Killer’s most effective conceits, as it forces you to stare down the depravity—and the redemption—of our lead characters. Given some of Nowicki’s writing in the past in regards to game and sexuality, a basic reading of Heart Killer’s plot makes it seem like a slightly more erudite version of those MRA/MGTOW losers who claim that game is “supplication” and “degenerate” and the path to “real” manliness consists of being yourself, even if you’re an antisocial freakazoid who enjoys eating paste straight from the jar.

You would be wrong. Oh, you would be so wrong.

Andy Nowicki excels as a writer precisely because despite his ideological biases, he can step outside of his own life and imagine what the world looks like from the perspective of people completely unlike himself. Additionally, Nowicki realizes that even in the most evil person imaginable, there is a flicker of goodness, a chance of regaining God’s grace. It is this hope of salvation, no matter how tiny and remote, that gives his fiction pathos and makes his characters believable.

Nowicki’s books are Christian in the sense that Anthony Burgess’ novels were Christian; implicitly rather than explicitly.

For example, the first part of Heart Killer, written from Lazarus’ perspective, details the sordid and morbid reason she chose to become a criminal profiler: she secretly desires to be ridden hard and put up wet by the serial murderers and psychopaths she pursues. During one gripping segment, Lazarus develops an infatuation with her sister’s boyfriend, a classic “dark triad” sociopath who gets his jollies from abusing women, who naturally keep coming back for more:

“Whore! Don’t tell me you’re a virgin! I just took that from you, whore! So what are you, now? What are you? (loud smack) I said, what are you? Answer me! (sobbing and sniveling) Stop crying… just tell me: what are you?”

Then I heard the girl, whimpering, “I’m — I’m a whore…”

“A whore!” he shouted, triumphantly. “I just made you a whore. And you let me do it! Aw, you bled all over my bed, whore. What am I gonna do with you?” The poor girl whispered something in response, to which he shouted, “Speak up!”

“I don’t know,” she repeated, between sobs.

“Oh, you know,” he insisted. “You know, all right. You’re going to have to die.”

In the hands of a manospambot or an MRA/MGTOW/Orthosphere-type, this would have devolved into a limp, hackneyed morality play, either of the Heartiste variety (“Women are amoral, hamster-headed tingle-led demonspawn!”) or the conservative variety (“This modern world is sick, that it would drive women to such depravity!”). In Nowicki’s hands, it makes us care about what happens to Lazarus, even if on a certain level we despise her. Yes, she’s fucked in the head, but she’s not a monster. The same goes for Johann, the “Heart-Killer” himself; even as he descends into the pits of a metaphorical hell, he is given humanity.

It’s this humanity—this one burning candle in the dark cave—that makes the book’s ending, where Johann and Lazarus receive deliverance of a sort, so wrenching. I won’t spoil more beyond what I’ve written in this review, only to say that Nowicki knows how to stab you in the heart and twist it in deep. I haven’t felt this shaken by a work of fiction since when I saw Barton Fink for the first time.

The biggest flaws I see in the book come in its middle and end. Per Nowicki’s usual M.O., Johann Salvadorus is a self-immolating, world-weary and depressive Catholic (in spirit if not officially) loser, though fortunately he’s far less of a cardboard cutout than the protagonists of his previous novels. Additionally, the book’s finale, which spirals into the realm of alternative history, is too fantastical to believe, even as the novel’s characters are utterly, disturbingly believable. Again, I won’t spoil it, other than to say that it’s the most absurd variety of alt-right wish fulfillment you’ll ever read.

But honestly, alt-right, manosphere or whatever your ideological poison is, Heart Killer is easily one of the best novels of the 2010’s. I can say that with confidence even though we’re not even halfway through the 10’s; it’s that good. It’s a novel that disgusts you, yet lifts you up, gives you a bit of hope. If you read nothing else Nowicki has written, read Heart Killer.

Click here to buy Heart Killer.

Read Next: Considering Suicide by Andy Nowicki