When Paul Desuth, the narrator of Kirkbride's neat novella, suffers the death of his wife he wants an answer. He wants to know why such as injustice has been visited upon him. And he knows just exactly who to ask. So we begin our journey through the topography of Heaven and Hell. But this is not the baroque landscape as traditionally imagined and Desuth is a thoroughly modern Dante. A copywriter rather than a poet, he wanders an afterlife of keyboards and screens, slot machines and military hardware. This reimagining provides much of the underlying humour of the work. And while the tone of The Plot Against Heaven might appear to owe much to Bizarro literature--with its pushing of an idea to whatever logical conclusion beckons--Kirkbride isn't here just for the revels.
Gary Budgen grew up and still lives in London, UK. At various times he has been a print worker, switchboard operator, programmer and lecturer. His fiction has been published in magazines such as Interzone, Sein und Werden and Morpheus Tales, and anthologies from Salò Press, Boo Books, Thirteen O'Clock Press and Eibonvale. His chapbook of short stories, Chrysalis, is published by Horrified Press. He can be found at: http://garybudgen.wordpress.com/
Who hasn't considered that God should answer for the state the world is in? Given the existence of an all-powerful being who rules the universe it can only seem logical in terrible times that an explanation is due, a case is answered. But what about those smaller scale catastrophes, smaller only that they affect fewer people? Might not an individual also be due an answer?
Paul Desuth believes so and finds himself in the lobby of Heaven demanding to know why his wife died. Heaven is a corporate militarised bureaucracy shielding an oligarch who can never be seen, but whose influence is beyond measure.
As the narrative progresses we might begin to wonder about Desuth. The death of his wife is terrible for him but does it really amount to the vast injustice he perceives?
Why let it happen? Why separate those who love each other? The nicest people get sucked out first.
Well yes but at times he sounds short-changed or swindled. A customer who is disappointed in the product. In the neo-liberal world where we should be able to have whatever we want so long as we have the buying power this just isn't on. So what Desuth is really after, what all you can be after in such a universe, is some recompense.
When the oligarch at the top won't see him Desuth ends up in the employment of the rival, the sleek Satan who is all the more convincing for being just the modern devil we expect. Hell is a mixture of the long afternoon of a Las Vegas casino and the office playrooms designed for the eternal twenty-six year olds in Silicon Valley.
Now that I've been promoted, I spend a lot more time with the great man himself. Hell has its own TV channel and the Devil has his own show…
We get the cosmology we deserve.
Expectations are raised of the narrator getting his comeuppance: for working for the wrong side; for perceiving his own misfortune as more significant than it is; for having the audacity to confront God in the first place. But the story goes beyond that, to touch on those big questions that are inherent once you start to realise that you might not be dealing with equivalences here. Needless to say it doesn't turn out as Desuth or the reader expects. We never should have entertained the idea that it could have. Desuth might have thought he was in a story of industrial espionage and behaved accordingly. But what if we've all got it wrong? What if this isn't even the Bizarro romp we thought we embarked on but something closer to absurdism? We've been laughing beside a grave all along.