When a transphobic woman bombs Frankie’s workplace, she blows up Frankie’s life with it. As the media descends like vultures, Frankie tries to cope with the carnage: binge-drinking, sleeping with strangers, pushing away her friends. Then, she meets Vanya. Mysterious, beautiful, terrifying Vanya.
The two hit it off immediately, but as their relationship intensifies, so too does Frankie’s feeling that Vanya is hiding something from her. When Vanya’s secrets threaten to tear them apart, Frankie starts digging, and unearths a sinister, depraved conspiracy, the roots of which go deeper than she ever imagined.
Shocking, grotesque, and downright filthy, Brainwyrms confronts the creeping reality of political terrorism while exploring the depths of love, pain, and identity.
I’m going to be honest. This is not a book for me. I enjoy horror, I enjoy thrillers, and I enjoy books that make me think and feel and take me out of my comfort zone. And this book certainly does all that. However, I was so far outside of my usual reading sphere with this book that it’s been hard to write a review without my own emotional reactions coloring what I want to say. From what I read, this is not a bad book. It is neither badly written nor badly put together (though the characters feel a little vague and amorphous) and the story itself has interesting moments, but I didn’t like it.
First, the portion I read is put together in a very non linear fashion, with with flashbacks, flash sideways, and flash forwards, with little demarcation to indicate where one begins and another ends. Add to that Frankie, who is an unreliable narrator focused on her own life and enjoyment; interludes of events happening to random people on the sidelines that further explore the plot; and the drifting, diffuse, and dreamlike moments of Vanya’s point of view that burble up randomly. It’s moody and atmospheric and vibe heavy, but I also found it frustrating in trying to get to know either Frankie or Vanya as characters.
There are also a lot of heavier kinks, ranging from piss kink, humiliation, degradation, and a breeding kink, as well as mentions of abortion and suicidal ideation, bombing, murder, body dysmorphia, eating disorders, body horror, parasites, stalking, harassment, hate speech, bug hunting (as in someone deliberately infecting themselves with either a disease or an actual bug, like tapeworm, botfly, etc) and more and more. I assume this is meant to be an extreme book with a focus on horror, and there’s one scene in particular where I had to close the book and walk away for a bit. Some pages later, the author themselves takes a moment from the story to tell the reader that an extreme chapter is coming up and to take time if needed to prepare.
I read that chapter, and then a bit further, but in the end, I tapped out.at 62% Not because the book is bad. But because I, personally, was unable to continue. Given the title of the book and the cover, it’s easy to see the general direction the story is headed, especially given Vanya’s kink for bugs — and not the virus kind — and I’m sorry to say I just couldn’t keep reading.
The author has a strong voice, and while I struggled with the framework, the story did flow along its path with good pacing. The characters were amorphus, with Frankie feeling so diffuse that I was really able to get only anger and a need for control from her. Vanya is a broken person, abused as a child, groomed, and led into very dark, very heavy kinks at a young age. They feel unworthy of being anything but used, and it’s heartbreaking:
“Are you okay? You hit your head,” [Frankie] said.
“It’s fine.” [Vanya] pulled themselves up and wiped the blood from their face. “Oh … I’m bleeding. Do you like that?”
More blood kept coming out of their nose. “What?”
“I’m sorry,” said Frankie.
“Because I hurt you.”
“I don’t care.” They were looking out of the window. “It’s fine, really. It’s what God made me for.”
When they started kissing again, Frankie went on top of them. Vanya’s body was so white and cold, and the blood was drying on their skin. Frankie would have felt like a necrophile if it hadn’t been for the slight smile that showed at the corner of their lips when they looked up at her. That’s how she knew they were alive.
If you’re a fan of extreme horror, body horror, or have a strong stomach, this book looked to be headed down an interesting path. Unfortunately, it’s one I couldn’t take. I regret not being able to finish this story, but I just couldn’t keep up with the book.