You might not know this about me (though if you’ve spent any length of time around me in real life, you might’ve figured it out), but I’m a soft-hearted individual. I still have stuffed animals and plushies in my bed. When I take them out of town, I tuck them into my hotel bed because I want them to be cozy. I beg people not to tell me sad stories about pets because they’ll actually make me weep.
I don’t talk about this piece of my heart a whole lot because it’s very much a weak spot. I’ve had people exploit and take advantage of this weak spot. (No, I don’t really want to talk about it.) But it’s a piece of me, much like my love of books.
I’ve yet to have a book that pulled these pieces of myself together and crafted it into a story that had me bawling like an emotionally-repressed adult-type thing.
Not until THE IMAGINARY CORPSE by Tyler Hayes, anyways.
So let’s talk about it.
Detective Tippy (of the Stuffed Animal Detective Agency) lives and works in a realm known as the Stillreal – where ideas beloved enough to be fleshed out and adored go when their creators can’t handle thinking about them anymore. Maybe their creator died, or went through something so traumatic that they can’t deal with anything that might’ve been present during the event – whatever happens, when an idea is loved enough before it’s let go, it winds up in the Stillreal. So we’ve got some superheroes, we’ve got schemas in which children organize their memories and thoughts, we get commercial ideas, we get the personification of Big Business – pretty much anything and anyone you can think of. And Detective Tippy does his absolute best to solve problems, save people, and make the Stillreal a place anyone can call home.
However, there’s something afoot – Friends getting killed. Like, perma-killed in a way that means they don’t come back . . . ever. Which is not how the Stillreal is supposed to work.
In a world of nightmares and screaming corn and supervillains that pull no punches, we meet a real monster known as The Man in The Hat. And it all just gets crazier from there.
The Imaginary Corpse makes quick work of diving to the heart of the matter, and the heart of the reader. I automatically want to blame myself and my soft baby heart, but there’s something about this book that dives into my very soul and tells me what it sees there with no fanfare, no fuss, no judgement. I’m reminded of that Pacific Rim-based Guillermo del Toro quote, “We are all the Jaegers in which scared children hide,” in that this book found that scared child inside my soul and said, “Hey dude, the coast is clear and you can come out now.”
And as scared as I am, as hidden as I am, as much as I’m still crushing that inner child back into my chest cavity where I can say it’s safe, I want to believe that this is so.
There’s great love in this story, not just for the noir genre – of which I’m also a huge fan – and not just for the items of our youth, but for those that have torn off pieces of themselves in order to stay alive. For those that have had to abandon youthful ideals, leave behind their comforting stories, this story takes you in its arms and says, “I see you, and it’s alright because they’re all okay, see?”
This is my take, anyways. Maybe I read a little deep into it, but how could I not? How could I, a queer person who has notably had to defend their identity against internet-based and physical people alike, not find some comfort in a story where our protagonist introduces himself with, “Hi, I’m Detective Tippy, what are your pronouns?”
Like, call me a fuckin fine Victorian lady because that shit’s got me laid out on a fainting couch while fanning myself.
I can applaud the prose all day – of which I totally will, don’t get me started – and I can wax poetic about the pacing and timing of a novel that’s plotted so expertly I better see most of you taking notes. These things are a given, and you can trust me when I say that I can’t think of a single flaw in this whole book.
But the most important part – the part that you need to absolutely read this book for – is its emotional impact. The delicate nature of how Hayes talks about traumas and dealing with their fallout. The very clear message of, “It’s okay to ask for and need help.” Like, don’t get me wrong, a sad cat story can and will move me to tears. But the emotional punch of this story came from left field, and makes you look it in the eye while it pokes every bruise and soft spot of that thing in your chest that used to be a heart.
I love this book. I interviewed Tyler and y’all should definitely listen to it, but you also – and I cannot stress this enough – need to read this book.
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