Click here for Stona's author page.
American economist Eliott Gast is a man who treasures the finest things that life can offer – fine food, a good bottle of wine, beautiful music. Until the day that he is abducted in Europe by a shadowy and extremist anti-globalisation group. Eliott is held hostage for forty days, and each moment of his incarceration is broadcast on the internet. His captors inform him that his eventual release depends on the votes – and donations made to their cause – of the millions of people who are watching this most disturbing of reality shows. As Eliott battles to understand why he has been chosen, he unearths sins both small and large. Over the course of his captivity Eliott is deprived of each of his senses, one by one – deprived of everything except the choice of whether or not to survive.
Praise for Senseless
‘Startling in conception and disturbing in what it says about our times.’
‘A chilling psychological thriller and a brilliant political fable for our time … should be situated on the literary map between DeLillo and Coetzee.’ Russell Banks
‘The most disturbing story I’ve read in years, cunningly subversive.’
‘The book … has us writhing, but that is its genius… We are left with a riveting and exhausting novel, one that hits a number of extremes – delights full of horror, with numerous civilized touches to assuage the wounds they make.’ The Bloomsbury Review
‘Published as the world struggles with issues of justice, vengeance, proportionality, Senseless combines the taut plotline of a made-for-TV thriller with the ruminations of a sophisticated literary novella… As much as any novel can, this disturbing one forces us to face what we’re capable of … in such a predicament.’ Philadelphia Inquirer
'A superb white-knuckle thriller which blended extreme violence with complex ideas about terrorism, globalisation and internet voyeurism.'
Doug Johnstone, Independent on Sunday
'An existential thriller told with brutal clarity and dealing with cruelty, voyeurism, consumerism and globalisation. Brilliantly written with pace, style, confidence and insight, this unbearably tense and truly unforgettable novel will leave a lasting impression.' The List (for full review see http://www.list.co.uk/article/10535-stona-fitch-senseless)
'Stona Fitch is not trying just to shock you for the sake of it, his remarkable novel will really make you think, force you to consider your own position and beliefs. But it will also fuck with your head. Just a bit ... Senseless is a short novel which most people will polish off in just a few sittings. You won't be able to forget it though. Ever.' Scott Pack, The Friday Project
(for the full review, see: http://meandmybigmouth.typepad.com/scottpack/2009/11/senses-working-overtime.html)
'Senseless is a disturbing and disturbed book on many levels. Its deceptively simple surface narrative touches on deeper and more complex themes, allowing it to be read on many levels. The very ambiguity of motivation and psychology leaves you searching the narrative for clues as to some reason why, engaging with the text on a level most thrillers seem to forget. This is one hell of a novel; smart, dark and unnerving. And for the more viscerally oriented among you; you’ll never look at a cheese grater in the same way again.' Russel McLean for CrimeSceneScotland, 30/09/08
See an interesting review by Lisa Glass and extensive discussion of the issues involved on the Vulpes Libris blog: http://vulpeslibris.wordpress.com/2008/07/23/ senseless-by-stona-fitch/
... And another blog review, on Bookmunch, here
Read an interview with Stona Fitch by Megan Abbott at http://www.allanguthrie.co.uk/ pages/noir_zine/profiles/stona_fitch.php
About Stona Fitch
Of Scottish-Cherokee ancestry, Stona Fitch lives with his family in Concord, Massachusetts, where he leads the renegade Concord Free Press, the world’s first generosity-based publisher. His original, powerful and disturbing novels have been published in the UK, France, Germany, and the US, and have attracted an international following. His novel Senseless (published in the UK by Two Ravens Press) has been praised by J. M. Coetzee, Russell Banks, and others for anticipating violent anti-globalization protests, online hostage-taking, and other political developments; it is now an independent feature film. Printer’s Devil (2009) and Give + Take (2010) are also published by Two Ravens Press.
An extract from Senseless
Day 3. Today’s insight – being detained is very boring. The day passed slowly. Hours of work at the window with the one-euro coin, the press of my thumbnail in the plaster to mark the day, a few notes written and tucked into corners of my apartment, the stealthy arrival of food cartons – these events did little to speed the flow of the day. In the long dull afternoon, whatever fear I had dissipated. If they were going to chain me to a wall and beat me, they would have started already. They wouldn’t be feeding me hot meals and keeping me in these relatively comfortable circumstances. I convinced myself that behind the seamless door, my captors had realized that they had grabbed the wrong man. Even Alec Moore, our feckless leader, wouldn’t merit much attention or money.
I stayed in the bedroom most of the morning, hoping to catch sight of the invisible staff that spirited away my food after every meal and delivered more. If I left the room I laid a trap I thought clever, stacking three empty litre bottles against the door so they would topple over at the slightest motion.
That afternoon, I went into the larger room for exercise hour. I assumed that exercise was an important part of the hostage experience, a way of staying healthy and sane. Stripped down to my boxers, I ran in circles until my heart pounded and the room spun. Sweat poured down my face and the air tasted sour with dust. I drank some water avec gaz – the box contained a mixture of still and sparkling, another sign that my captors were civilized. I did a few halfhearted push-ups. If my keepers were watching, certainly they would have pity on me. A life in Washington and Brussels did not make for health. A weekly jog, the occasional weekend with Maura at a spa in Maryland, the weekend chores around the farm that required lifting – these were my sporadic defenses against heavy cream, Bordeaux, and Dunhills.
I turned on my back and did a few sit-ups, crunches, as they were called, implying that there was something to crunch. With each sit-up my soft stomach, usually hidden beneath a suit, revealed itself. I wondered when the sight of my own body had become so displeasing to me. The idea of being watched quickly brought my exercising to a close. I lay back on the floor and stared up at the aluminium ducts, wondering who was watching me now.
‘A book!’ I shouted. ‘And new clothes – I’ve been wearing this suit for three days, for God’s sake. And a carton of cigarettes. Dunhills, in the red pack. Those are my demands. For the moment.’ I gave a nervous laugh, hoping that my observers also had a sense of humour. Then I closed my eyes and waited for my heart to stop pounding from the run.
When I woke, the light filtering through the painted windows had paled. In the empty bedroom, the beam of sunlight from my scraped circle projected a tiny orange sun on the wall. I had been asleep for hours. I walked back into the bedroom to wash up. The usual cartons of food waited next to the futon. Stacked next to them were a pair of lightweight tan trousers, three pairs of underwear, and three white undershirts. I picked up the clothes and found that they were all my size and of German manufacture. On the other side of the futon was a red carton of Dunhills and a stack of books. I picked each up, found that they were used, with slightly torn covers. The prices pencilled inside were in Belgian francs. They were all relatively inexpensive, in English, and apparently randomly chosen – an illustrated book called Ships of the World, a faded travel guide to the Congo that focused on the bargains to be found at certain markets, a volume of Cosima Wagner’s diary, and a book on metallurgy.
‘Thanks,’ I said up to the grate above my bed. As a child, I personified certain places in my room – the chair next to the window was my mother, in the far corner dwelled friends from school. I was never alone, even at night. For now, the overhead grate was my overseer, audience, judge.
Day 4. I settled into a routine that allowed me to convince myself that I had control, a comforting thought. In a way, I could do what I wanted, as long as it was within the confines of the empty apartment. Mornings I spent reading Ships of the World. Sailing was never of much interest to me, but now it all seemed fascinating. I read each paragraph carefully. The keel length of the Albans schooner. The route between New York and London that skirted the Grand Banks. I realized how little I knew about ships. I decided that once I was released, Maura and I would go on a cruise. For now, I did my best to forget that this apartment was not my own, that all the food, clothes, and even my books came from someone just beyond the door.
My thoughts escaped my prison though I couldn’t. On weekends, Maura and I used to drive west from Washington through eastern Virginia, watching the city give way to towns, the towns give way to country roads. At some point near Tynsdale, we would stop the car and set out on foot. We carried only a small backpack with our lunch and some books to read. How simple and free that time seemed. It surfaced in my thoughts often during these early days – an antidote to the present.
It was during a weekend trip that Maura and I first walked the long lane past two barns and grazing fields gone to high grass, all boundaried by toppled stone walls. At the end of the lane we saw the tall, two-story house, vaguely Greek Revival in style, but made of pale stone carefully pieced together and topped with a slate mansard roof. Weeds poked from the mortar and the slate was missing patches like a half-scaled trout. Above the front door, we could see words carved in the stone. Triangle Farm, 1819. The odd house awed us at first sight. What had driven someone to build a house so sturdy and formal so far in the country? I envisioned a Jeffersonian in exile, perhaps a lesser politician who wanted to build an empire. Whatever motivation led to its birth was now lost to history, leaving behind only the ruins, which we explored for hours.
The idea occurred to us both slowly. We could buy the farm and restore it. We realized that we wanted to live in the country, not just visit it every weekend. It was 1980, the dawning of the awful Reagan years, a fine time to leave Washington. We were in our mid-thirties and our idealism was giving way to less palatable realities. My work consisted of writing economic policy papers that rarely found their way further than a dozen or so readers, none of whom were in any position to act on my recommendations. Besides, the economy was sputtering, a gilded engine with corroded works. Maura worked at a small nonprofit agency that funded land conservation. The work that initially interested her had grown stale, and she was eager for distraction.
Our marriage, too, was at a quiet point. The slowing of desire leaves a void. Some have children. Others have affairs. For us, the farm was to become our preoccupation, our forty-acre ward. The initial excitement at its purchase gave way to the realization of the enormity of the work ahead, which would drain the rest of our savings and more.
While everyone else in Washington was having power lunches and darting about in limousines, we lived like ill-prepared pioneers. After months of hard work, the farm’s original beauty emerged, a landscape freed from yellow varnish. Weekend visitors laughed at our album of ‘before’ photos, amazed at the transformation. With some satisfaction, I charted our tax assessment as it doubled, tripled, and more. Maura’s reward was less fiduciary. Triangle Farm gave her a purpose, a centre to her life that she had not found before. It anchored her when I started travelling more, gave her an endless flow of responsibilities that she found rewarding, and made up for our less-than-perfect union. The name seemed prescient. Triangle Farm. The farm, Maura, and I formed a triangle as unlikely and solid as the farm’s stone walls.
At midday, I became less convinced that I would be returning to the farm soon. The apartment hummed with a certain efficiency that hinted at permanence. It seemed set up for a long incarceration, perhaps months. I thought of the Iranian hostages back at the end of the Carter years. They were imprisoned for more than four hundred days. I remembered seeing the gaunt, bearded face of Terry Anderson staring from the cover of The Washington Post every now and then. As the years passed, he seemed almost an embarrassment, forgotten and lost somewhere in a Beirut cellar. Weeks in captivity, much less years, filled me with dread. I wanted my time as a hostage to be brief, a footnote, a story I could tell in meetings or after dinner.
My life of a few days ago was remarkably predictable. I might have to go to a meeting in Berlin on short notice. There were regular rumours that IBIS was shutting down or merging with another agency. Friends had heart attacks or surgery and Maura and I visited them in the hospital. Calls from Roanoke told me of great-aunts and great-uncles who had died in nursing homes. Colleagues called to announce their divorces. Cars crashed. People were injured and got better. The low, flat terrain of my life had lulled me into believing that nothing was ever going to happen to me.