[Review] Preston Fassel’s The Despicable Fantasies of Quentin Sergenov
Violent delights and violent ends…
My introduction to the seedy grindhouse works of Preston Fassel was, of all things, through a podcast I was listening to in the middle of my workday. There I sat in my little cube, crunching numbers and minding my business when, suddenly in my ears unfolds the story of two women facing off against each other in life-or-death stakes that rang through with the mythology of the Minotaur in its maze and on the hunt. It caught my attention with such force that I paused the episode to go order the book (Our Lady of the Inferno) right then and there. What I got was a story far more complex and disturbing than I had initially bargained for, with characters that were allowed to be as complex and cruel as they needed to survive. Crucially for me in particular — spoilers — in addition to all the troubled women fighting for survival and supremacy in the grimy sides of the street, it also showcased a disabled side heroine who never once became the castoff fodder of the villain’s plot. My ranting about Our Lady, and the magic connecting abilities of Twitter, brought me into direct contact with both Preston Fassel and the host of the podcast (Killer Horror Critic) that introduced me to him. Through sheer luck and general enthusiasm, I ended up writing with the former and periodically talking exploitation movies with the latter. And so it was that I became a devoted fan of the grimiest works to grace my bookshelves.
After Our Lady of the Inferno so firmly dragged me into its corner, despite the queasy feeling of probably needing a shower afterwards, I figured I knew more or less the caliber of story I was in for with Fassel’s work. When I heard the ingredients of his next novella, however, to say I was thrown for a loop would be a bit of an understatement. The Despicable Fantasies of Quentin Sergenov features, among many other things, queer pro wrestlers; a Pretty in Pink obsessed man-turned-dinosaur; diabolical Nazis ripped to shreds; and a Star Trek convention.
Now, here’s the thing. I seem to be an odd fan out in some respects even in the horror community. I’m fairly straight-edge in my recreational choices and I don’t know anything nor do I particularly care about wrestling. Before Our Lady of the Inferno the most graphic-feeling horror novel I’d read was probably something in Stephen King’s wheelhouse. All this to say, it never quite feels as though I am necessarily the target audience for the grindhouse splatter-punk style of writing in which Fassel lives, and yet there’s something in them that pulls me back every time. Our Lady worked for me because I am a mythology-obsessed woman who loves writing about vengeance. Quentin Sergenov? Well…the connection may not have started out as strong, but I found something in it a bit more complex than its surface may have you believe.
Summarizing Sergenov is an exercise in crafting the perfect word salad, but for the sake of the rest of this piece I will outline it thus: Quentin, a former pro wrestler who was kicked out of his profession after being outed as queer, is now, following a diabolical operation, a dinosaur. After having more or less successfully adapted to his new life as a feathered prehistoric beast, he decides to go on a quest for vengeance against those who wronged him and track down the love of his life, another wrestler from his former career named Wave with whom he had had a few sexual and — according to Quentin — romantic encounters. In his spare time he waxes poetic about his favorite film, Pretty in Pink, while splicing together a rather unusual work of his own.
This novella is, above all else, an absurd mix of gore and laughter. At just 48 pages it is virtually designed to be a quick shot of levity in your day, provided queer dinosaurs seeking love are your kind of thing. But for all its absurdity there is a darkness at its core I did not expect and which isn’t necessarily fully revealed until the last page. With that in mind, if you don’t want the story spoiled for you please stop here and return after reading. There be spoilers ahead.
Despicable Fantasies is a rather apt name for this novella’s core predicament. While by the time we meet Quentin he is comfortable in his identity, the same cannot be said for any of his romantic encounters. Wave in particular — the fellow wrestler with whom Quentin is rapturously in love — is uncertain and ashamed when we first encounter him. He alternately spins a narrative in his mind about their liaisons that Quentin “made” him or that he only engaged because they were on the road and he was horny. Both pretty angry and damaging paths of thought, to be honest, and both of which Quentin rapidly dismisses as nonsense. While Wave does eventually get to a more accepting place within himself and engage in a queer relationship in which he is both comfortable and genuinely comforted to be himself, Quentin remains stalled within his own rose-colored (or Pink, if you prefer) fantasies.
Quentin is, underneath his human and dinosaur forms alike, a markedly damaged person. A stepfather who abused him haunts his psyche like a spectre of his worst days. As it does for all of us with twisted family relationships, this shaped, in part and however unconsciously, the way he understands love.
[To Wave] “He said that the world hated me. And I believed that for so long. I believed that…I was only good enough to be shit on and walked away from until someone needed to use me again to get rid of their own filth…And then there was you.”
[To Griever] “I didn’t want to destroy you anymore for replacing me. I understood that he wasn’t rejecting me by loving you…He was only trying to fill the void that I left. And if there was a void left, that I meant something to him. You’re an evidence of our love.”
He goes through hell and violence for a man who hardly thought about him after he was fired and who had since found fulfilling relationships and acceptance of his own. He believes and constructs through sheer force of will and costumes a Pretty in Pink scenario in which Duckie wins Andie and the day. He, naturally, is the Duckie to Wave’s Andie. And Wave’s boyfriend? Well…
The thing about Quentin, and the above passages in particular, is that Wave does only use him for his own fleeting moments of sexual satisfaction. We never get a full sense that the intensity of Quentin’s feelings are reciprocated on Wave’s end and he even goes so far as to tell Quentin — as previously mentioned — that they only connected because he needed an outlet. In short, while Quentin projects a depth of love that isn’t there onto a man who lines more closely with his former destructive mindset, Wave had actually found it, and for his troubles gets to watch his lover be eaten from the feet upwards by a dinosaur in a porkpie hat.
However wrapped in feathers and delusion it is, Quentin’s convinced the love he feels between himself and Wave is real. He does not wish to hear any other narrative than the one where he and Wave end up together, even as everything else in the story proves to us the impossibility of this goal, and even if it means completely dismissing — or consuming — the happiness of the person he proports to be devoted to. It is a deadly and despicable fantasy indeed, and one that, while wrapped in Fassel’s particular brand of humor, lingers over the story’s end with every bit the threatening aura of society’s most violent “nice guy”.
The Despicable Fantasies of Quentin Sergenov is a singularly strange piece of work. It is one of those that probably won’t have a lot of grey area in it; I don’t expect anyone will describe it as anything other than a love or hate situation. Snuggled within its absurdity are some pretty remarkable gory moments, and Griever’s fate, sad though it may be, is as gloriously over the top as any fan of Fassel’s work should be inclined to expect. It may just as well serve as an introduction to Fassel’s abilities, with the caveat in mind that even this is but a claw scratch on the surface of the seedy underbelly the author usually revels in. Quentin Sergenov is out now, for the enjoyment of all who can stomach it.