Welcome back to The Unreprinted, the series in which author Ben Arzate explores the finest and/or most fucked up in forgotten and out-of-print fiction. The title of this one may call to mind the classic Canadian body horror of filmmaker David Cronenberg, but don’t let it fool you. TK Kenyon has crafted something entirely different and every bit as mind-boggling with this one. Feast your eyes!
After Beverly Sloan discovers a pair of panties in her husband Conrad’s luggage that isn’t hers, she realizes he’s having an affair. With the help of Dante, the priest recently transferred to her church, she confronts her husband to try to save her marriage. Meanwhile, Conrad, a scientist working with diseases, works overtime on his research and tries to hide his affair with grad student Leila, the second one he’s having.
One thing I found odd was that one of the blurbs on the back refers to the book as a “medical thriller.” Maybe I haven’t read enough in that genre, but this novel seems to barely fit that description.
There is a subplot where Conrad is working on an experiment he’s hiding from his co-workers and the university he’s a professor at, and it turns out to be the with the rabies virus which ends up compromised and infecting people in the lab. However, the subplot is just that and really doesn’t factor in significantly enough to warrant the book being titled Rabid.
I would say this book doesn’t know what it wants to be, but it does. It wants to be a novel of ideas about the conflicts and overlaps between science and religion. It just doesn’t know how it wants to deliver those ideas.
There’s the subplot with the rabies virus, the soap opera-like domestic conflict, the priest Dante who’s a specialist in hunting down pedophile priests so they can be removed to a Vatican retreat for penance, and it becomes a courtroom drama after Beverly accidently kills Conrad.
That final plot point is especially annoying since the argument that resulted in Conrad’s death is told to us and then repeated again and again in the court scenes. There’s a lot of plot here, but it’s very unfocused and the various points seem to be battling for attention.
There are also extended scenes of scientific and philosophical discussion. Some of it is interesting, but several of them suffer from being stiff and unnatural as dialogue. There are discussions of virology here which could have been interesting but are filled with terms that only a virologist would understand. Kenyon herself is a virologist, but here she doesn’t do a good job of conveying information to people outside of her field.
I felt that the best part of the book was towards the end when it’s revealed Leila had been molested by a priest and Dante helps her to cope with it. To me, it seems like there’s a much better book of about 250-300 pages in this 460-page book. The first 150 or so pages are especially grating, as it seems like the story just spins its wheels with Beverly going to see Dante, Conrad working in his lab and going to sleep with Leila, and Beverly and Conrad arguing repeatedly and little else happening.
Other potentially interesting parts, like a young boy dealing with the trauma of abuse from the priest that preceded Dante, barely get any time.
Kenyon released another novel, also out of print, and self-published a few eBooks. Her site also hasn’t updated since 2013, so maybe she’s not even writing anymore. I may give her second novel, Callous, a chance as Rabid seems like a very unpolished first draft with some potential.
As for whether it deserves to come back into print, it doesn’t in its current form, but a heavily revised version certainly would. Kenyon has some interesting ideas and writes prose very well, but she needs a tighter and more focused story to deliver it.