I did my first chapter impressions of this book a little while ago, and now that I’ve finished, can I just say: Wow.
I’m going to break tradition and do a full, spoiler-heavy review of the book; if you’re looking for incentive to buy it, check out the one linked above. This one is me sorting through how this book made me feel, and how it builds to a fantastic ending.
Major spoilers for FleshTrap follow, as well as discussion of gore, murder, pedophilia, trauma and abuse. Read the book first! It’s worth it!
FleshTrap is not shy about being a horror novel. From the tendencies of its protagonist (Casey’s notebook full of missing-persons posters, oof) to the loving descriptions of its victims as they’re seduced and devoured by the flesh trap itself, Cubed’s novel places itself firmly among classics like Misery, SAW, House of Leaves, and others.
‘However, the driving force of the novel is not the supernatural, with abuse and human horrors as flavourtext or backdrop; instead, Casey’s trauma and difficulty processing it is the plot. The fleshtrap, with all of its gory wonder and body-horror fascination, is just the most aesthetic part of the allegory. The tension comes from the push-and-pull Casey experiences between his stepsister Mariska, compatriot in his trauma, and his boyfriend Joel, the bystander who wants to help and doesn’t know how. How do you heal? How do you move on? What does it mean to be ‘dwelling on’, versus ‘exploring’ trauma?
I think the most important thing to me in this novel is how trauma isn’t afforded any leeway as an excuse or as a reason. The fleshtrap is made up of Casey’s dark impulses, behaviours learned and borrowed, a protective instinct mirrored from his own father’s horrific actions. It isn’t pretty, or sweet, or in need of protection – it’s the type of trauma that hurts everything it touches. Just as importantly, however, the division between the fleshtrap and Casey himself is kept intact within the narrative, even while Casey finds himself conflating the two. Casey is not the problem – he is not the murderer, or the one hurting people. His pain has taken on, quite literally, a life of its own. FleshTrap also has no time for the idea of the Perfect Trauma Victim. Casey lies, breaks promises, acts in ways that are endlessly frustrating – the messy symptoms of his PTSD are given just as much, if not more, screentime than the tidy ones.
This isn’t a narrative that will sit well with every trauma victim – and nor should it. It’s also a story that will make some readers very uncomfortable, which is a good thing. It’s a direct challenge to so many tropes and established ‘facts’ of horror, trauma and recovery that it’s liberating to read. Some books are making you uncomfortable as a way of asking you to look in the mirror and reflect on your discomfort – this is one of them. (Also, I’ll acknowledge it: flesh-eating is just fun to read about sometimes.)
It isn’t a perfect book (how many are?). The writing limps in some places particularly near the climax, and there is one personal point of contention for me. The book is very heavy on mentioning that David Way was abusive to Mariska, and how much it traumatized Casey; however, Mariska’s personal trauma is given significantly less screentime, and there’s a notable hole in the story where it feels like David did something to Casey that’s been left unsaid. It detracts a little from the impact of the book, but I can appreciate what a little bit of distance does to make the book that little bit less triggering.
FleshTrap by Magen Cubed is available on Amazon both as an ebook and a paperback.