“Bound up in taboo fetishism and constantly oscillating commitments between the base and the transcendent, and between comedy and horror (much like Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return), Too Old to Die Young uses its genre-codified landscape of moral corruption as an allegorical mirror for America’s crumbling civilization, and as a space for a far-reaching aesthetic study of eroticism and violence in art. Putting itself in conversation with the cinematic genre signifiers most loudly established by Alfred Hitchcock’s oneiric, perverse California masterpiece Vertigo (1958), Too Old to Die Young constantly scrutinizes the wavering spaces where the tawdry mingles with the sublime, where sexual (re)productivity entangles with morbidity and destruction.”
Niall Howell’s Only Pretty Damned is a seriously impressive debut, showcasing a sophisticated sense of craft and a deep understanding of its genre’s genealogy. Centered on a traveling circus making its way through the unforgiving environs of post-WWII America and Canada, Damned is steeped in richly detailed sociohistorical texture.
Mike Thorn reviewed Niall Howell’s debut novel Only Pretty Damned for FreeFall Magazine (volume 29, no. 2).
Niall and I first met as undergrads at Mount Royal University. From what I remember, we first connected through our mutual love of film, either through a course or a club of some kind. It wasn’t long before I learned that Niall was also a fiction writer, and we started exchanging excerpts from our works-in-progress. Niall’s rare, formidable talent was immediately evident to me—I saw in all his work a unique sense of humour and a mastery of pacing, plot and voice. After reading his phenomenal debut novel Only Pretty Damned (available now through NeWest Press), I reached out asking if he’d like to do a Q&A. He kindly agreed, and the dialogue below is the result of our email exchanges.