Corrosive is a short story about the life of Stan, a man of no means who’s lived a cruel life and is subjected to a terrible twist of supernatural fate.
Stan works a crappy job, is in a stagnated and struggling relationship, and clings dearly to his only possession of value, his camera, which represents his desperate hope for a better life. It may not seem that there is much going for him but that doesn’t mean he won’t cling to life, even if the choice is to kill to survive.
The story is intriguing from the very beginning. As Stan awakes in a fevered sweat, the skin peeling off his back, we are given a sense of his awkward relationship whilst also setting the scene for whatever foul thing is befalling him.
Stan crept to his side of the bed and quietly began to pick at the scales and deposit them in his left palm. They were slick on his fingers, like shreds of silk dripped in oil. For a moment he thought he’d retch, but the fact that Anne would wake up any minute now made him hold it in.
The plot sees Stan, after losing his girlfriend and his job, getting hired as pornography photographer and mixing with the seedy underworld that comes with it. It isn’t something he’s comfortable with, nor is it a contract he can easily get out of.
Stan felt a great pity for all of them, including himself. They were carriers of failed dreams, bearers of abuse-riddled pasts, hearts struggling with self-worth, personalities looking for life’s last chance at relevance; men and women beaten by life so badly that they grabbed at the first straw they saw to pull them out of the mud.
Whatever is happening to Stan continues to cause his skin to peel off his torso, leaving him in terrible pain but, along with it, comes a sinister power that, despite it’s horrific nature, may be exactly what Stan needs.
It is difficult to say much more about the story without ruining the plot but I was pleasantly surprised with how Kariuki tied Stan’s symptoms, and emerging powers, into the story, using it to further develop his character.
The cornerstone of this story really is Stan’s character, and generally this is well conceived. However, I don’t feel completely attuned to Stan’s suffering. Mainly this is due to a couple of moral inconsistencies. For example, Stan spirals into a deep emotional distress and is wracked with a heavy conscience after his first day of shooting at the pornography site, but holds no remorse of a man he’d killed only weeks before.
Plot-wise the story is well rounded, giving the reader a satisfying conclusion. The pacing though is extremely rapid, and in order to reach its conclusion the story comes away from Stan’s inner struggle to throw in a few needless action scenes, that scream Hollywood dramatisation.
For example, the guards for the pornography business suddenly partake in a dangerous car chase and a wanton shooting spree, killing any innocent bystander who gets in their way. This seems excessive, especially for men who hide in the shadows of society.
Despite those small negatives, Kariuki has come up with an intriguing and original idea, bringing it to life in an intense graphic story, that packs a lot of punch.