The Suiting – Kelley Wilde
Tor – 1989 (First published 1988)
A few months ago, I was looking through the paperback horror section in my favourite thrift store and saw this book. I think my initial response was to roll my eyes. “A horror novel about a suit? Jesus, they must have been running out ideas by the end of the 80s.” I left the store empty handed, but by the time I was home, I was obsessed. “A book about a haunted suit? Yeah, that’d be different. It might be good. It couldn’t be worse than that book about evil trout that I read last year. I’ll give it a go. I want to read it. I need that book.” I went back the next day and bought it.
The book starts off with some lad getting fitted for a suit. Then he leaves the tailors in a hurry, puts his suit in a locker, and bumps into a gay lad who he has been avoiding. After a long, violent fight, the gay lad kills him. I don’t know why the gay lad’s sexuality is ever mentioned. It has nothing to do with anything else in the book.
Another fellow finds the suit in the locker. He nicks it and then goes home to try it on. It doesn’t fit him. This chap is a dork. He collects coins and spends his Friday night’s with another loser talking about poetry. He’s in love with a girl from his office, but he’s too scared to do anything about it.
The suit possesses him. It teaches him how to speak French and convinces him to go to the gym. He hits the gym so hard that his body changes to fit the suit. He convinces his alcoholic boss to relapse so that he can take his job. This works. This part of the book was fairly interesting. The character’s sudden narcissism and preoccupation with fitness and luxury items reminded me of Patrick Bateman.
Then he goes to Montreal on vacation. He takes some pictures and has some confusing hallucinations about dying and a woman. When he gets home he shows his loser friend the pictures. There follows a lengthy, confusing section where the friend tries to figure out the relationship between the different pictures. It turns out that the buildings in the pictures are from different eras. This part was not at all interesting or exciting, but it drags on for ages.
There’s some kind of mention of a curse, but it’s never really explained.
Then the protagonist starts meeting girls in bars. One of them fingers his arse. He likes it. The girl from his office that he fancied is murdered by her old boyfriend. Our hero later finds this boyfriend and stabs him in the face.
With 50 pages to go, I was starting to get worried that this book wasn’t going to tie up its loose ends. The protagonist seemed to be having some kind of breakdown that was interfering with the narrative. He throws the suit in a river but keeps part of it. Then he gets a new suit. Then he rapes and kills a small child and starts seeing ghosts in his apartment. Then he goes out and finds the gay lad who murdered the suit’s original owner and kills him. Then he jumps in front of a train.
At first, I thought the omission of explanatory details was intentional and that they’d be given by the end and the mystery would be wrapped up. By the end of the book, I realised that the lack of clarity and cohesion was just bad writing. A lot of the horror I read gets by without ever explaining the mystery, but this book is about an evil suit. It needs to be explained. I get the sense that the author was trying to walk the line between pulp horror and surrealism (I read an interview with him in which he compared this book to Roland Topor’s The Tenant, ha!), but The Suiting is too complicated for the former and too stupid for the latter. This is unfortunate, as I enjoyed big chunks of it, and it could have been much, much better. Kelly Wilde actually rewrote this book for a special 25th anniversary edition. I think it only came out as an e-book, but it has since been removed from Amazon. I won’t be reading the new version.
Kelley Wilde lived in Canada, but he is an American. Aside from the street names and the appendix of translations of French Canadian phrases at the end of the book, there’s nothing inherently Canadian about The Suiting.
There’s quite a few comparisons that can be made between this novel and Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. They were written within a few years of eachother, and both deal with similarly unstable protagonists who are drawn to fancy suits. The reason that you’ve probably heard of American Psycho and not The Suiting is becase the latter is a heap of crap.
The next time I find a horror novel about something that sounds really stupid, I’ll know better and leave it on the shelf.
Haha. No, I won’t.