High Life

by Matthew Stokoe

Central Question: What is true noir for?
Number of named characters that evade death and/or degradation: zero; Number of acts of sex and violence that can be imagined but not committed: zero; Gallons of bodily fluids spilled, spurted, or otherwise expelled: countless; Title of author’s forthcoming fourth novel: Colony of Whores; Author’s rationale for writing the book, according to an interview in 3:AM Magazine: “I’d lived for a long time among the dregs of society in London and I knew that life really is a horror show for many people—it’s not like they just have one or two bad months then everything is ok again—these people exist in a world of constant violence, ignorance and deprivation. I wanted to show this in as unambiguous a way as possible”; Representative passage: “Dead eyes turned on me like something out of The Terminator. His smile looked cut into his face.”

High Life, British writer Matthew Stokoe’s second novel, may be the hardest-to-stomach work of narrative fiction ever created. I know of nothing to compare it to except Stokoe’s first novel, Cows, which is fully its own conversation. If you’ve never read him, you’re either missing out or doing yourself a favor.

The intestine-tightening disgustingness of Stokoe’s work is not everything—he’s an immensely compassionate and thoughtful writer—but no discussion of what he does can overlook this aspect. A cursory inventory of scenes in High Life should suffice: there’s the jackhammer-snuff scene, the anal-crowbar scene, the speculum-pissing scene, the mouth-shitting and genital-vomiting scenes, the kidney-removal-and-masturbation scene, the corpse-double-teaming scene, the dog-evisceration scene, and a thousand varieties of incest, morgue malfeasance, and homemade porn featuring both voluntary and involuntary actors.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—David Rice

David Rice is editing his first novel and has stories in Black Clock, Identity Theory, the Last Magazine, Spork, and Pithead Chapel. His web fiction series A Room in Dodge City and graphic novel Lazy Eye Stories are at

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