Author: Peter Sotos
Type of Book: Sotos-esque
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Because Peter Sotos is the sort of writer whose prose is so indescribable that I have to call it Sotos-esque.
Availability: Published in 2013 by Nine Banded Books, you can get a copy here:
You can also get a copy directly from Nine Banded Books.
Comments: I finished reading this book at 3:00 in the morning and didn’t really sleep that night. I read it in one sitting and though it only took a few hours to read, when I was finished I felt hollowed out. Sick. Queasy. Not unlike how it feels when you crash after a speed bender. Jittery and empty yet all too aware that sleep is not coming. Parts of this book were like being flayed. I think anyone who was ever victimized finds Sotos a daunting read, but of all the books he has written that I have read thus far, this one was the most upsetting to me. And the reason I was so upset was because that which is wrong in this book is often wrong in me.
Of course we all know that I read upsetting books because I like being upset (or sickened or awakened or whatever happens to me when I read really difficult content). But even within that paradigm I take a beating when I read Sotos. Without engaging in too much self-analysis, I can only assume that at the end it was a beating I needed or truly wanted in some way. This is why I read Sotos. Because on some level we have similar thoughts – a book like this could only be devastating to a person who has already been down this road. To the unaffected reader, it might just come off as vulgarity or pointless obscenity. Despite being trained to analyze literature in an academic manner, I prefer to react in an emotional manner to the books I read. I don’t really care about the schools of thought and the tradition of transgression that many attempt to apply to Sotos’ work. When I read him I care only about my reaction, how he pokes at my own obsessions, how he knows so much more than anyone else about the will to harm and the will to survive harm.
I don’t know how this fact had not jumped out at me before, but in every book, keeping in mind every little bit of genuine autobiographical data he gives, Peter Sotos is playing different roles and channeling different people. He is exploring humanity by speculating about the worst things that go through the minds of the worst people. Because he is taking on the roles of other people, Sotos, in a very real sense, is engaging in psychodrama. And that is why I am so wrung out at the end of each book he writes. His psychodrama speaks to my own worries, neuroses, experiences and fears.
This is purely incidental. Peter Sotos is not writing for you or for me. Never forget that. Any meaning you take from Sotos’ words may have nothing to do with his intentions as he wrote the book. He’s not trying to relate to us. His psychodramas are his own. They are so deeply personal and unintended for purgation of others that it’s very interesting to me the extreme reactions his writing creates, especially in those who find themselves angry at what they consider Sotos’ wickedness.
That having been said, no matter how incidental any connection I have to this book may be, this book was a great emotional purge for me. Even in the extremity of another person’s psychodrama I found little pieces of my own experiences, most of them unpleasant. Clearly something in me is perverse enough to enjoy being poked psychically. It’s a useful pain, I think.
This is the first time I have read the material in Tool, though contents of this book have been published before, most notably by Jim Goad’s imprint, in a compendium of Sotos’ works entitled Total Abuse. Sotos’ life took a beating in the mid-80s. He was charged with obscenity for publishing his ‘zine, Pure, and was ultimately convicted of possession of child pornography – he was the first person charged under the revised Illinois Child Pornography Act. The act went into effect on November 18, 1985 and Sotos was charged with possession of child pornography on December 5, 1985. He was indeed in possession of child porn, as he had used a photocopy from a kiddie porn mag in Pure, and he received a suspended sentence for using that image. A couple of years after his arrest, he began writing the content that makes up Tool.
People interested in fringe culture often know there is a link between Peter Sotos and child pornography. Outside of hard core fans, few know the details. Sotos did not have a pile of kiddie porn. He was not involved in the creation or sale of child pornography. He never violated a child. Rather, he was on the radar of the justice system because of his initial arrest for obscenity. In the Internet Age, it seems almost impossible that the content of Pure – a ‘zine devoted to serial killer culture and the visceral, nasty details of murder – could be considered obscene. I tend to think the obscenity charges may have stemmed from the fact that the legal system, like me, didn’t immediately pick up on the fact that Sotos role-plays as he writes and was not personally advocating murder or rape of children. In 1985, the American public was not subject to the relentless invasion of serial killer culture on television, in movies, books, and video games. In 2014, there is nothing in any edition of Pure you can’t find on, say, Best Gore, Documenting Reality, and sites devoted to child abuse apologia. You don’t even have to go to the much touted and seldom visited dark web to find content at least as upsetting as Pure, if not far worse. Some of the content would be fodder for any of a number of police procedural programs on prime time television. But there you go. Times change.
The obscenity arrest and child pornography sentence caused no small amount of chaos in Sotos’ life, and Tool is the document that the chaos inspired.
Part One of Tool is a slice of Ian Brady, as imagined by Sotos. This section was upsetting, to be sure. Sotos managed to channel the monster, the bully, the worm who thought he was a lion, yet who was also acutely aware of the real cruelty he was inflicting on a child and was unable to stop, and it’s a thing to behold. I had a reaction to some of this that was wholly unexpected.
Take this small snippet, as Sotos portrays Brady tormenting a little girl, probably Lesley Ann Downey:
No one but your mom cares, I guess. But you’ll never see your mom again… so… I guess… no one cares for this poor fucking little cunt who sits in front of me, crying like a big fucking baby. Cry, cry. Crybaby. Fucking cunt crybaby.
Have you ever been at the mercy of someone bigger and stronger than you, someone who was intent on hurting you in some manner, who then went on to mock your reaction to being hurt? I think most of us have, be it a demented parent, a cruel teacher, or a callous bully. There is something so vicious in causing harm then mocking those whom you harm. This little snippet was like a punch in the gut in how evocative it was of my own memory.
I became aware of how much I knew of the murder of Lesley Ann Downey because, even though Sotos does not reveal anything Lesley would have said, he imbues Brady’s brutal rants with elements of her pleading.
Let me show you something. Let me show you… this.
I’ll leave it to your imagination what it is that Brady via Sotos shows Lesley, but this passage was interesting to me because of something Lesley actually says on the tape recording that Myra Hindley and Ian Brady made of their assault on the little girl (the tape transcription is all over the Internet if you want to read the whole thing):
Can I just tell you summat? I must tell you summat.
It’s notable that Sotos channeled the cadence of Lesley’s pleas into Ian Brady’s menace. But more notable is that I, the reader, picked up on it. That’s one of the major reasons a person should read Sotos’ books – to see what it is you really know and how you react to knowing you know it. Despite having read Brady, and Sotos’ obsession with Lesley Ann Downey, the Moors Murders are not one of my own obsessions. Yet somehow I gleaned enough that I could recognize the mimicry of Lesley in those taunts. Down to the cadence of the words. I have no idea what this may mean other than that I do, at times, spend a lot of time in very dark places but it does explain to me why I keep reading Sotos even when he makes me flinch.
Part One also touches on the torment that Lesley’s mother felt. Arguably, she was the most famous of the parents of the Moors Murders victims. Her agony fueled a lot of media attention. Ann West’s unending grief is previewed in this harangue:
Think now – of how painful the rest of your mommy’s life is going to be. How she’ll hurt from the moment she notices you’re gone ’til the day she dies. How she’ll never be able to think of anything else. How nothing else will ever matter. How no other thoughts will be able to push the images of your pain and torture and desperate death out of her mind. You will always be there – like a Catholic’s bleeding and crying christ on a cross – in the forefront of her mind. Everything she does from now on will be controlled by images of you laughing in your crib… turning into images of you silent in your casket.
And that is more or less exactly what happened, though it’s hard to see how it could have turned out any differently for Ann West. Your little girl gets killed by two of the most degenerate sacks of shit ever, and they make an audio recording of her torture, and one of the murderers sends you letters, and you end up with very few emotional options. Ann West used her sorrow to court publicity whenever Myra Hindley sought release from prison, and her interactions with the press fueled some of Sotos’ analysis of the role of the media in the continual re-rape and re-murder of famous child victims (one day I am going to let loose on Nancy Grace, the vicious, sneering ghoul). I hadn’t looked at Ian Brady this way, as much as I despise him, but it makes sense that there is a very good chance that Brady reveled in the potential pain caused to the parents of his victims before he ever killed them.
(I don’t know a lot about Ann West but I do know she went to her death convinced that Myra Hindley was the person who strangled her daughter and swore to haunt Hindley from beyond the grave. I really love her for that.)
Sotos hammers this theme home later when he has his Brady proxy muse upon the state of American television and it’s enormous love for the victim, with a dose of what caused so many people to think that the Satanic Panic could possibly be real – repressed memories.
…children are so… innocent. And trusting. Kids’ minds are so fragile. They can’t handle abuse the way an adult might be able to. Kids’ minds fall apart. I know all this is true because I saw it on TV.
Do you watch GERALDO?
20/20? 60 MINUTES? FRONTLINE? HARD COPY? A CURRENT AFFAIR?
christ – they’ve all done specials on child sexual abuse. They’re fucking great shows, too. Kinda stupid – but great to watch. I’ve seen all sorts of weepy mothers on ’em. And they teach you all sorts of things. Healthy, moral sorts of things.
Sotos, via his Brady proxy as the killer speaks to his victim, is laying out very neatly the dissonance in American discourse that existed in the 1980s and exists now. The precursors to the Nancy Grace-monsters made a lot of money off genuine victims and helped create new classes of victims – people who became convinced by lunatic therapists that they had repressed memories of horrific abuse. Another class of victims were those who were accused of the worst men can do because an eight-year-old told improbable tales after a True Believer worked on him for months until he said what he needed to say to make the badgering stop. But in addition to the victim ouroboros that marks much of the 1980s and 1990s preoccupation with Satanism and ritual sexual abuse, it was during this time that the American public really got a chance to wallow in the victim mire.
All those abused people recovering memories, all those damaged people who were really abused and had the misfortune to cross paths with television producers, all those families trying to put themselves right again – they all became the side show that fed the American appetite for abuse. We got a taste for it during some of the game shows a couple of decades earlier. Queen for a Day was a hoot for people who wanted to see some human misery alleviated with a brand new refrigerator. But by the time the talk show circuit became a complete freak show, we no longer cared if the people who stood up and shared their grief, real or imagined, ended up with anything good at the end. And now we’ve decided that the worst men can do is great entertainment – many people know the names of exploited or murdered little girls (and a few boys here and there) because reliving their torture is evidently quite fun. Caylee Anthony, Elizabeth Smart, Shasta Groene, Polly Klaas – b-movie actresses salivate over such name recognition.
And what healthy, moral sorts of things have we learned? That some people are weak? That some people are easily led? That the depths of human depravity will never be plumbed? That we are superior because we haven’t been easily led and haven’t killed a child?
Mostly, what we have learned is this, still coming from the mind of the Brady character as he speaks to his child victim:
Your pain will make me want to keep you alive. I’ll want to watch you die forever.
Please stop crying.
We are keeping these victims alive and watching them die forever. My jury is still out on whether or not this is a bad thing. In the case of a kidnapped child whose fate is unknown, relentless media attention is a good thing (for those who are afforded it). Mostly, however, it’s just an orgy of salacious details. Were you afraid? Did you miss your mother? What did the rapist say before he let you go? Do you feel lucky to be alive? Do you? And I’m as guilty as anyone else – my at times encyclopedic knowledge of killers should show this.
But am I sorry? I hope I am. I sense Sotos is. I know Nancy Grace isn’t.
What I am not speaking about from Part One is almost as important as what I did speak of, but this is a very hard chapter to read. Animal abuse, child porn, total abuse – all of it – spoken of without any mercy or even a chance for the reader to catch her breath. Sotos describes in nauseating detail the harm a man can do a little girl. He speaks of the mental torture such a man inflicts on the helpless – tears are as important as blood to the sadist. If you cannot stomach such a mindset or such actions, you do not want to read this book. Peter’s writing is a room without a door. You need to make sure you want to close your eyes and open them to find yourself inside that room.
Part Two comes from the mind of a john who is looking over the prostitute he paid to give him a blow job. Far less horrifying than Part One, but still dark and obscene. The speaker discusses the bad habits of the prostitute and how they directly cause her degradation:
Her drinking – her drinking problem – her drunk existence is everything one sees. Her posture. Her gross sexual gestures. The shape of her mouth and nose and eyes. The veins on her neck and bony chest. Saggy tits, bruises, scars, nicks she doesn’t feel, gaunt, stretched and hungry stomach, toothpick thighs and spindly legs, flat, flabby ass and gaping cunt. Her hairy, unkempt… personality… everything is colored and modeled by the drunk she went to bed with. The drunk she put on first thing in the morning. The drunk that wets her brain and slacks her mouth and runs her life from one slow Sunday to the next.
So why does the speaker engage with such a woman? The wallow, ah the wallow.
Filthy pigs. Beasts, Ten minutes and twenty bucks and the opportunity to wallow in their destruction. So cheap.
Really, hiring a low-end street prostitute is not much different than watching Satanic ritual abuse victims on Sally Jesse Raphael. We all engage in the wallow, to a person. All that differs is how we define the degradation.
Part Three contains the remembrances of a man in an old-style peep show establishment, the sort I associate with San Francisco and New York in the 1970s. The kind where a woman gyrates behind glass as masturbating patrons pay coins to watch. The speaker in Part Three is only too aware of his surroundings – floor sticky with semen, smeared glass, the smell of sweat – and cannot escape the foulness within and without as he engages in his own compulsions. The speaker here jumps in his reactions to what he sees and does, but unlike the killer in Part One, he seldom experiences guilt as he looks at the women, the often very young women, who provide a jaded exhibition. Still, there is in this section a sad understanding of the ways girls grow into women who have no other option but to sell their bodies and how too often they become forever changed by the experience.
I should see that she feels pity, not contempt. I shouldn’t see this as any big deal – it’s not humiliating or desperate. I’m lonelier than she is whorish; I’m an animal, and she provides a service. And if she seems jaded, it’s just because she’s –
–seen all types of men–
–seen all types of cock–
–heard all the moaning and filthy suggestions–
–heard all the insults–
–seen all kinds of orgasms and kinks.
But as this man sees his own degeneracy, he can see how this girl, this young woman, is not just providing a service but is also falling down into a dark hole with each show.
But she’s a chickenshit actress. Her dance is crude ostentation. It’s contrivance and artifice, and it belies much more than just a job. She can’t pull it off, she’s:
This man shows his sadism when he goes on to say:
It is a pleasure to see one so young and yet already used-up. It is heartening to know she’ll raise more humans in her own image.
It’s the truth for all too many women in sex industries. It’s stuff like this that fuels the radical feminists who adopt a SWERF attitude towards women who use their bodies to pay the bills (Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminist is the acronym and I have yet to meet one who does not make me wonder how feminism became something more Protestant and puritanical than anything Hawthorne could come up with). The speaker then goes on to speculate on the trauma that landed this young woman behind the smeared glass, the abuse, the lack of hope, the addictions, and the beatings. He does not, however, put energy into how he, the pig, came to be the person on the other side of the glass. He doesn’t really need to – his dissection of this woman, his dark glee considering the brutality he speculates she has endured, tell us what we need to know. He’s not going to directly victimize her with a bottle in an alley, date her and molest her daughter. He’s just going to watch the spectacle of her sinking down. He’s made his choice in how he will express his id. He will not be an active Sadean, holding a whip. He really is just the pig, the worm, the man whose dick can only get hard as he thinks of damage.
Part Four is a letter from a killer to the mother of one of his victims. This immediately caused me to think of the cowardly, despicable letter that self-proclaimed Super Man Ian Brady wrote to victim Keith Bennett’s mother. Brady never mailed the letter but authorities and the Bennetts were aware of its existence. In the letter Brady supposedly revealed the location of Keith Bennett’s body. I don’t think Brady could have anticipated how this letter would haunt Winnie Bennett’s life, especially her death, but he could not have planned a better torment had he intended it. Keith’s body still has not been found and Winnie died not having given her son a final resting place.
But there are elements in this section that make me think that perhaps Sotos was channeling Dennis Nilsen alongside Brady. I say this because Nilsen (whom I often think of as “The British Jeffrey Dahmer”) preyed on young male runaways and prostitutes, and the man in this section is tormenting the mother of a young hustler. Nilsen, to my knowledge, also never taunted anyone with letters, though I may be wrong because it has been years since I read about him. Brady tended to concentrate on the very young, on little girls because they were easier to control but also because they were innocent. Nilsen wanted company – Brady wanted to kill innocence (among other things…). This, for me, is a very excellent reason to read Peter Sotos, to see how much you pick up on, how much your own knowledge frames what you read.
Regardless of who did what and who was channeled in this section, Sotos returns to a similar theme – a killer’s response to the media attention paid to a grieving mother:
Nothing wrong with a little limelight, and I certainly don’t mean to suggest that you’re an empty, worthless media hog. In fact, I think the photo of you shrieking and crying at the courthouse when the caption below read “Danny’s mother declined comment” was especially tactful.
You’ll no longer be a piece of trailer-camp trash with a faggot junkie whore for a son; you’re forever now a poor, blameless mother who has suffered unspeakable injustices. Inconceivable tragedies. Gross disadvantages.
Violence is quite a purge, my dear woman, and when I think of the gleaming coincidences we share, it’s mildly disturbing to me that we’re not much closer. I’m sure you’ll agree.
Violence is indeed a purgative. Reading about it certainly is, for those who like a good vomiting up of shame or sin. This is quite interesting to me, how Sotos looks at the mothers of the murdered in this manner, channeling the self-serving bullshit of men like Ian Brady who would justify anything as long as he looked like the smartest man ever to live at the end of his explanation. Of course the murderer wants to know that once the victim is dead that those left behind are suffering and how can such a worm stop himself from mocking pain? But Sotos’ later works explore how it is that the murderer is abetted by a extremely tiresome media that needs a parade of sobbing victims as much as the killer. We’ve already visited this theme, and while we are reading the imagined thoughts of a killer or two, never forget that Sotos is the observer, and that there can often be several points he is making in one scenario. Once you’ve read him a few times, once the shock wears off, it becomes easier to see the point behind the onslaught.
Part Five may be the most autobiographical section in the book. In this section Sotos or the speaker he channels shows disgust for the police system that arrested him and even attempted to cause him dire harm by announcing to cell mates that he was in jail for possession of child porn. This section is hard to read because the speaker begins to discuss some of the confiscated child porn that he has seen the police looking at as they try to get a handle on his case. They wonder if he is a member of NAMBLA. They think he might be a Satanist. They ask him all kinds of questions completely irrelevant to the situation and completely misunderstand the ‘zine that resulted in Sotos’ obscenity charge. The speaker is tired of these cops, these stupid people who want the salacious details without ever trying to understand the victims or what has really happened to them. There is a lot I highlighted in this section but I don’t want to reproduce it because even now I am still chewing over the content. But at the end, the point I largely came away with is that the speaker realizes that children abused in pornography need a hero to save them and none of these lummoxes measured up.
Part Six is a wallow wherein the speaker is thinking about the sorry, unattractive nature of hollow, unpleasant homosexual hook-ups in contrast to the crimes committed by serial killers who were also sexual sadists. The power of this chapter comes when the speaker muses on the pornography of reaction to sexual murders. The “money shot,” as it were, comes when the parents of one of Randy Kraft’s victims realize the torture their son endured, when Ann West identified her daughter in the morgue, when parents realized that their daughters fell victim to Peter Sutcliffe because they were prostitutes.
But then he shifts gears. The speaker, after all these dreadful musings, develops an almost metaphysical despair:
My mind should be filled with these things. My brain should wash with images of Dean Corll fixing one of his young charges to his torture board and ramming home that big dildo. Of Ken Bianchi injecting ammonia into some dumb-titted coed’s veins. Peter Kürten slashing some small child with a broken pair of scissors. Robin Gecht tying up the fat tits of a teenage nigger whore and then slicing ’em up and off. Of Dodd torturing a helpless five-year-old boy and recording all the baby’s pain with his camera and tape recorder. Ted Bundy jamming a can of hair spray into a dying bleeder’s discharging asshole.
The pigs are wrong, stupid. Too much is made of the money shot. The humiliation, the desperation, the degradation, the weakness, the failure, the base stupidity – all givens. The cunts bring it with them. Nothing new. Nothing real. Hollow promises and lifeless stand-ins. Stunted onanism. Easy pantomimes designed for the sheepish magazine-and-video set.
I was once completely immersed in serial killer culture. Unlike a few others, I never really made much from this obsession but it was with no small amount of amusement that I found, more or less word-for-word, comments I had made about several fringe and obscure murderers reproduced in a book about serial killers published by a fellow traveler in the worst men can do. I am chaotic and sort of nihilist. Nothing is new and everything is stolen so I didn’t care. But mostly I didn’t care because even though the material itself was interesting, I had stopped caring. It was all the same thing, just an ocean of human tragedy and senseless impulse, bad decisions and degraded lives. When the details of the worst people do bore you, you may soon find yourself unable to relate to anyone on any level. Best to shake it off and find your humanity again.
It all seems so fascinating in the beginning, trying to figure out what makes a killer and what makes a victim. In the end all you know is that people do despicable, nasty, bestial things to each other and that is the sole lesson. The only conclusion. You can make it a commodity, as all the crime and criminal procedural shows that exploded in the early naughts prove, but in entertainment you miss the sheer, random pointlessness of it all, how it is some people are born to kill and others born to die and that’s how it’s always been. You lose focus on the boredom that comes when you really try to know monsters.
This sort of aggressive ennui extends into Part Seven, but takes on a sadistic twist. The speaker is talking to a woman he wants to have sex with. I believe she is a prostitute. The speaker is making it clear that sex with this woman would hold little more appeal than masturbating to porn. The only reason this woman could possibly serve as a substitute is if she shares the miserable life experiences that have caused her to come to this sorry end in her life. The speaker says nothing bad ever happened to him, and perhaps that is why he needs the eroticized, cruel details of the abused, the miserable, the degraded. He denies that he has a base interest in this woman’s agony, but the next paragraph has him exhorting her to share her damage.
This is a theme in this book – the speakers’ prurience is less oriented around the details of the murder, the torture, the rape, the blood. The real interest is the damage. How did both of them – the victim and victimizer – wind up in this particular situation. Determining fear of the victim, the reactions of those left to identify the bodies – that is the point behind all the wallows. These speakers want to know the worst people can do so they can see and perversely react to the reactions of those who have suffered.
The speaker says:
I’ve seen some great kiddie porn – but never have I been attracted to the kids’ bodies. It’s the crime, you know. The damage. The situation. Not the body – I couldn’t give a fuck if it’s a girl or a boy or whatever. I just like the trauma and torture and general action. I like the mutilated innocence, the destruction of the naive and protected, the brutal reality and pain of knowledge.
It’s praxis at its most fucked up, that moment when thought becomes action, that interests the speaker. How the bruised psyche picks up the knife or walks the streets.
Part Eight may seem like a relief to read. It’s the last real section, so that alone is relief of sorts. You’re almost to the end. And this section is deceptively pleasant. No visceral wallow, no profanity, no discussions of degrading sexuality. But this is the most perverse chapter in this little book. This is another epistolary chapter – a speaker has written another letter to the mother of another abducted and murdered child. If “Lisa Anderson” was real, I was unable to run her to ground – rather I think she is a composite of so many missing little children.
This letter is purportedly from someone who has been following the case of this missing child, wanting to connect to the grieving mother, give her hope for the future. This section is so obscene because it is a precursor to Nancy Grace, the vultures who pick the bones of the victimized for entertainment whilst patting themselves on the backs for being the moral sort of people who would never, ever do something so horrible to a child as they delight in the details of the horrors done. This section also shows the sick links people can develop with the families of the victimized. You see someone every day on television, pleading and crying, you develop a sort of relationship with them, a one-sided emotional connection that for those with a very specific pathology can turn into something like the letter represented in this section.
I’ve thought about you every day since Lisa went missing. I don’t think you’ve ever left my thoughts. I’ve seen you weather through the search, her missed birthday, the terrible discovery of her body, her burial, and now, the adjustment and recovery. You, and your husband, have been very forthcoming with your pain. So many of your words have stayed with me. And I want to say thank you from deep within my heart for letting me really feel what you went through – your suffering and confusion and pain. It’s an extraordinary feeling to share those intimate moments.
It’s a terrible trade off, isn’t it? Clever and constant use of the media is the only way to bring attention to a missing child case. But in order to use the media you have to be ready to strip yourself naked and permit every lunatic with a television or computer screen the right to gawk at you. The viewers will eat you alive. They will think you are the killer if you don’t cry. They will think you are the killer if you do cry. Some will see you naked, crying and unprotected and will inveigle their way into your life because they will think your expressions on television are you directly sharing your misery with them as a form of entertainment. They will become as obsessed with you as some people are with fictional television characters, writing fan letters to parents of murdered children.
The media is meant to serve as a tool to help recover the lost but it really becomes a chance for the vultures to profit off your pain and for the damaged to become enchanted with your pain. And it is what it is but at the same time we lose nothing when we accept that what it is is obscene.
A parent of a missing or murdered child does not want to know you think of them everyday. That you appreciate how well they showed their pain. That you feel they shared an intimate moment with you. They do not want to serve as your misery-fix until the next Lifetime Movie of the Week. But they have no choice. The media and its control of victim narratives forces them to do this and if they choose not to do so they will be vilified by flaring nostrils as being suspicious.
There is another small section, an appendix of sorts. It’s Sotos himself discussing his work, his ideas. It’s worth a read but in a selfish, egoistic way, I don’t want to discuss it. I am mainly interested in my reaction and my interpretations to the main part of the book.
While I love this book like a masochist loves her sadist, I can never tell other people to read Sotos. I have no idea if you should read this book. It occurs to me that the sections I reproduced from Tool are among some of the less pornographic, violent and upsetting passages in the book. If these passages upset you deeply you probably need to give this book a miss. Some men will want to read this book with their dicks in their hands, and that’s nothing I care about, but for those with a decided love of the wallow, you will want to read this book. It has plenty of wallows.
But if you read here and like what it is that I seem to represent, you will want to read this book because you want the slap in the face. You need the challenge of reading the unthinkable and finding your meaning in it. You may feel catharsis after reading it. I know I did. That hollow feeling I felt when I was finished reading this book was likely due to catharsis as some particular, closed off, frightening feelings came rushing out. I don’t know if I will ever read this book again. It has served its immediate purpose. But I’m going to hang onto it because that need for a purge may come up again and it may be a completely different purge. If you approach Sotos in this manner, using emotion to guide you, you may never have the same reaction twice. For the right person this book is therapy. I think I was the right kind of person.
As an aside, I managed to end up with two copies of this book. If you read all of my analysis of the book and want to give it a read, comment and let me know and the book is yours. First person to claim it in comments gets it.
11 thoughts on “Tool by Peter Sotos”
Your thoughts on the subject are traumatizing enough for most people 🙂 I applaud you for being one of those rare people who can see past a gut reaction and truly get to the meaning behind what she’s witnessing.
I have not been disturbed in a long time, so I’ll take a copy of the book!
It’s yours, James! E-mail me your address and I’ll send it out asap. Please come back and comment when you finish it!
Very well done review. I was always curious about Sotos’ work but the prose that I had read (via previews) never struck me and the feeling is confirmed here. It seems to be a necessary work in exploring that perspective though.
Alex, that’s one of the hardest things to explain about Peter Sotos. I get the feeling that a lot of his critics are people to whom the text could not speak. Which is fine because this is some specialized writing. But somehow that lack of connection for some readers made them feel that Sotos is a Very Bad Man. It’s good to see someone for whom the text means little not dismiss Sotos entirely, so thanks for this comment!
Great review. Honestly, I think part of what makes Sotos such a powerful writer is that it’s almost impossible to engage him on any level other than a personal one. I tried to take a more objective viewpoint in my own review (here for those interested: http://dripdropdripdropdripdrop.blogspot.com/2013/06/book-review-tool-by-peter-sotos.html ) and I think I failed for the most part.
I left you a comment on the entry itself but I think that you shouldn’t be so hard on your review. To my read it was very perceptive and clued in. Because Sotos is not writing for us, all we can do is pull out the truth we find on our own and you made a very good case for your interpretation. Your look at the book showed me some things my own perspective prevented me from seeing.
And as I said in that comment, I really find it telling that the two of us both think Part 8 was the most interesting chapter, for the various reasons we did.
Since literary criticism is not my cup of tea,Anita is doing a superb job at it,I wont discuss the issue of style.I will focus on the substance.From a psychological anthropological perspective,I think we may underestimate Sotos capacity (and his very intention) at playing,manipulating and exploiting the “guts reactions” of his readers.Sotos became the subject of intense controversies,because of the very nature of the materials he used.If you are capable of distancing yourself from the emotional and natural repulsive aftermaths of reading his books,you are left with the impression that Sotos is doing his best,and probably too much at pushing the boundaries of transgression.He reminds me,those Nazi exploitation or fake snuff movies directors.You really have to read Sotos Pure magazine to understand that you are entering the realm of the tacky.Sotos desire to provoke,is almost childish.He wants to make you puke,and he thinks he has the goods.
Sotos is considered to be a powerful writer,but I am sorry to say,I see him as a lazy player.He picks the taboo by excellence,pedophilia and child murder,and makes it even more disgusting by playing the role of the apologist.As someone who values derision over emotion,I think we should play Sotos at his own game,and tell him.”Nice try Peter,but please do not overestimate yourself,you are not in charge of my emotions.You are a sick bastard but you cannot make me sweat”.
This was a really fascinating discussion. I first found IROB some years ago when I was trying to work out whether I wanted to read Sotos, and I felt then as I feel now that your writing about him is the only thing that ever really makes me regret that I don’t yet feel up to the task. In the end, I think it might be damaging for me and better avoided. On the other hand, as you suggest, that feels like part of the draw, so maybe one day…
Some time ago I mentioned an interview I’d read with Sotos in which he seemed to be really playing up to the Very Bad Man image, and in which he said that he wished the world really was the way Dworkin saw it. He is very gloating about victims and their pain and seems to lack the compassion that you read into this book. In your review, you say you’re mostly interested in your own reaction and not in Soto’s own perspective, and I know you hate Moynihan (justifiably so – he’s a manipulative reactionary hack). Still, I thought I’d share the link to a page with the PDF here, because reading it has always made me wary of Sotos’ project. It might also be of interest to others who read the review:
If you do read it, I’d be really interested to hear your opinion. I know Sotos and Moynihan were friends, so I don’t imagine he would have misrepresented him too much. Do you think it’s just a case of the interview being provocative and childish for effect in a way the books are not? Do you think Sotos’ own Sadism is important to a reading of his work? Or is it more the point that his Sadism is inherent in the culture and he chooses to embody it fearlessly, without hypocrisy? Am I missing the point?
Thanks for the copy. I wrote down my thoughts on Goodreads.
I had pretty much forgotten what you had to say on the subject by the time I got around to reading this book. I must confess I wasn’t as disturbed as I thought I would be 🙂 I like to think I understood what Sotos was trying to accomplish. Perhaps he is guilty of having these emotions, but in a way, so are we all.
Where can I find some of his older work? I see that Amazon doesn’t carry most of his stuff.
Carl, most of Peter’s work is no longer in print, so finding older books can be very difficult. Most of my Sotos books I purchased used on Amazon. At first, it can seem daunting to obtain his books used because the prices are often obscene. What I’ve found is that these things come in cycles and it’s handy to check Amazon periodically. Right before school and the winter holidays can be a good time to find cheaper copies of his older books.
But mostly it’s very hard to find his older books for anything approaching an affordable price. Sad but true.