Volk

Volk
By David Nickle

David Nickle’s 2011 debut novel Eutopia, about a eugenicist community in early-twentieth-century Idaho that’s infested by a mind-warping species of parasite known as the Juke, ended on a curious note. A sequel might have gone in many different directions, but I don’t think anyone would have expected a book like Volk.

Volk picks up with the survivors of Eutopia some twenty years later as they are about to become enmeshed in another plot involving the Juke, only this time set among Nazis in Bavaria. That much seems a natural development, but what follows is a political, psychological and philosophical allegory of remarkable depth and ambition: the most intellectually provocative horror novel of the twenty-first century.

This is not a conventional monster story, though it does have a giant tentacle beast that eats people. Instead, Nickle dramatizes themes that have preoccupied him since his first collection of stories, and in particular the dark process of self-seduction that informs everything from codependent relationships to our belief in God. The frailty of the human condition and meaninglessness of the universe draws the mind to find refuge in horrors, drugs, and myths of monstrous purpose. We write our own horror stories in the end. The tapeworm is just along for the ride.

5 thoughts on “Volk

  1. Thanks, I hadn’t read Nickle before this recommendation and checked out Eutopia and Volk. It’s interesting — not necessarily a flaw — that historical eugenicist Charles Davenport remains a shadowy unexplained figure in both books, and that speculation about the dark side of eugenics (not that it ever had a positive side) gets sidetracked in the face of creature that rules not by breeding a better human but by mass hypnosis to provide a steady supply of host organisms (people don’t have to be “better,” just able to provide nutrients for growing baby monsters). In both books, eugenics (American, and then German) provides atmosphere and a launching pad for the story but isn’t at all integral to where it ultimately ends up. The eugenicists are fairly quickly tossed aside, not by caring humans but by a rival biome-model. You make the point in your review that human susceptibility to narrative is perhaps the real evil here. That’s consistent with Nickle twice trashing one sinister narrative (eugenics) in favor of another (mass mind control). I guess I’m still waiting for the book that reveals Charles Davenport himself as a many-orificed monster hiding behind the calm veneer of the scientific method.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Tom! I see these novels as developing further something that Nickle introduces in his first story in his first collection of stories. It’s called “The Sloan Men” and the horror that is revealed in the twist ending is less in the monsters than in us. I mentioned codependency here and I love how at the end of Volk he turns everything inside out and shows how we seduce ourselves. The Juke, like any good parasite, are just giving us what we want. They probably aren’t that complicated in any other regard. We give in to them willingly, which is nicely tied in to the politics of the time.

      I think I read somewhere that he was thinking of making it a trilogy. I don’t really know where he’ll go (and I’m always a bit worried that it will go somewhere I don’t want it to). Still, I think these are really thought-provoking books.

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  2. Eutopia is somewhat subverted by Volk in that in the former, the characters (who are very standard sympathetic protagonists) fight the process of seduction and mostly win. In the second book they are all revealed as flawed, yet they keep on fighting — or so we continue to think. As a reader I’m yelling, “Don’t buy it! Don’t listen! Keep stabbing yourselves if that’s what it takes to resist the seduction!” right up till the end. Possibly the ultimate subversive book would seduce the reader as well as the characters with a *plausible* religious/political/sociological narrative.
    Something I forgot to mention — these books have some elements in common with Frank Herbert’s The Santaroga Barrier, which also had a theme of utopian community and dark, psychedelic seduction.

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    1. For me the interesting thing was the way characters at the end learn how to stop worrying and love the Juke. They eat the blue pill, even knowing how the Matrix works. It’s the same sort of passivity that Ishiguro gives a political dimension to in his novels, and I really enjoyed how Nickle developed it here.

      I haven’t read The Santaroga Barrier but it sounds interesting! I’ll give it a crack.

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