It’s the final day of my Orenda feature and this time it’s a brand new review for a book initially published back in March. Like many other books, this came onto my radar at CrimeFest in Bristol but it has sat on my tbr list for far too long. So I dusted it off and dove right in and boy am I glad I did.
Jerry Dresden – loser, loner and internet porn addict. Deeply affected by the death of his sister and subsequent loss of his father, Jerry has little to nothing going for him, his only comfort coming from entertaining himself with fake celebrity porn and taking his little yellow pills. Only he hasn’t been so good at taking his pills of late and has been having some really tortured dreams of a young woman running in fear of her life. And his hallucinations are back, the ones his pills are meant to keep at bay. Including her. The woman from his dreams.
When a colleague from work, Roland, is attacked and a valuable painting stolen, Jerry, as the last person to see the painting, immediately becomes the prime suspect. But that is the least of his problems. His hallucination, the woman from his dreams, is following him. She calls herself Epiphany and no number of pills will make her go away. It soon becomes clear that Epiphany is anything but a hallucination, that she has been looking for Jerry and that she is somehow involved in the attack on Roland.
Epiphany is no ordinary young woman. Tortured and out for vengeance she insists that he is the only one who can help her. Knowing he has no choice other than to go with her if he wants to prove his innocence, Jerry becomes her unwilling companion on her quest. But what he will learn, about his dreams, about his family and about the strange woman at his side, is far worse than he could possibly expect. Framed for murder, on the run from police with a very dangerous man on his trail, and trying desperately hard to escape Epiphany, Jerry finds himself sucked into a world of sex-trafficking, horrific abuse and the darkest secrets that Hollywood has to hide. Will he ever be able to prove his innocence or to atone for the sins of the past?
Wowsers. This book is quite something. Opening on Jerry getting how can I put this delicately… ‘physical’ over an image of Audrey Hepburn, you can tell from the off that this is a book which will live life on an angle. Don’t let that put you off. This is far more than one man and his porn, although Jerry really does seem to like porn. A lot. Beyond that, Jerry is also a man with mental health problems, a kind of stress disorder which has caused him to hallucinate, seeing people who aren’t there, which is what feeds his initial paranoia over Epiphany. The girl from his dreams. Just another in a long line of imaginary people making his life problematic.
Where to begin with Jerry. He is so very wrong and yet I really grew to like him as a character. He is flawed, oh boy is he, but his dry, somewhat sardonic observations, really make this book something special. Along with some of the unbelievably crazy situations that he finds himself in, his thoughts add an element of humour to what is otherwise a very difficult subject. He is not your average Joe, but he is living a pretty average life, at least until the point he meets Epiphany. He is deeply affected by the death of his sister when they were younger, and his affection for her which threads throughout the story is beautiful. The descriptions of their times together, of how he read to her in the hospital, is a moment of light in a whole world of darkness. And when he finally finds love, he is a man who loves with all his heart.
Epiphany is somewhat of an enigma. Initially even the reader is uncertain as to whether she really is one of Jerry’s hallucinations. But as Jerry soon finds out, she is very, very real. Her past is very dark and disturbing, and her quest far more selfless than you may imagine when this story starts out. Despite her methods, I have a lot of compassion for her character. However, Grothaus has written her perfectly so that you will remain on the fence about whether to trust her for the longest time.
Now, despite the humour in the opening and the far too funny scene in which Jerry attacks his mother (oh lord I don’t think I’ll ever forget that one), this is a book with a very dark soul. This is a story of kidnapping, sex trafficking, abuse of minors and very extreme violence. And yet nothing is told in a particularly gratuitous way. There are scenes which will make you cringe, scenes that will make you angry, and scenes that will make you want to look away. But the way in which it is told, through Jerry’s voice as he recounts what he has seen and been told, gives the reader a layer of protection. Makes the sickening world that Epiphany has known as accessible as a subject like this can be. While books are always essentially there to entertain, this is a tough story to make light of, but Grothaus has captured the delicate balance of horror, humour, outrage and compassion perfectly.
Beyond being a story about abuse and the horrific world of modern sexual-slavery, this book also takes a very stark look at the dark side of money and power. Set within the sphere of the Hollywood elite, this could easily be any world where money and power can buy you whatever you want, and souls and morals are optional. Grothaus has depicted the vacuous side of fame perfectly; the too-white smiles; the willingness to do whatever it takes to make it; the secret addictions, money, drugs, sex, which afflict even the richest and most loved people in society. The belief that being rich and famous makes you untouchable. Guess what guys. Epiphany begs to differ.
This book never makes light of the abuse, and it does not play out for shock values. But it will shock and it will affect you. The murders are graphic, the abuse nauseating. But there are tender moments between Jerry and a woman he meets in Portugal, Bela, and the scene with the jack-o-lanterns is particularly touching. However, it is at the end, when Epiphany’s quest is finally over, when Jerry does what he does best and tells a story, that you will be truly moved. When you will shed a tear for all that has been lost and all that has been found. When you will realise that for all the humour, the porn, the abuse and the darkness, this is a completely brilliant piece of writing.
A disturbingly funny, grotesquely wonderful 5 stars.
‘Epiphany Jones‘ is available to purchase at the following links:
About the Author
Michael Grothaus is a novelist and journalist who spent years researching sex trafficking, using his experiences as a springboard for his debut novel Epiphany Jones. Born in Saint Louis, Missouri in 1977, he spent his twenties in Chicago where he earned his degree in filmmaking and worked for institutions including The Art Institute of Chicago, Twentieth Century Fox, and Apple. As a journalist he regularly writes about creativity, tech, subcultures, sex and pornography, the effects of mass media on our psyches, and just plain mysterious stuff for publications including Fast Company, VICE, Guardian, Engadget, and more. He’s also done immersion journalism at geopolitical events including the Hong Kong protests against Beijing in 2014. His writing is read by millions of people each month. Michael lives in London.