Gretchen Felker-Martin's 'Manhunt' - a bloodthirsty gender-bending thriller

  • by Jim Piechota
  • Tuesday March 29, 2022
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author Gretchen Felker-Martin
author Gretchen Felker-Martin

Imagine a world where a pandemic is mere child's play after a new global biological plague called "t.rex." actually turns men into cannibals! It's the post-apocalyptic landscape you'll find in Gretchen Felker-Martin's smashing debut novel.

The scenery is drawn with impeccable creativity and slathered with grisly gore where the remaining stragglers on the planet must fight for their lives and, when desperate enough, literally smash balls to the wall to survive.

Among the sleek legion who've managed to avoid infection is Fran and Beth, two tough trans women who don't mince words and each embrace a kind of rapport where calling each other a "cunt" and saying "lick my taint" are considered terms of endearment.

They first appear with arrows pointed at a meaty cannibal in the forest, eager to slice and dice the dude's testicles for a late-night, soul-quenching snack. They need his testosterone to fend off the plague decimating the globe.

These are among the book's gory details that are gloriously stomach-turning and definitely not for the faint of heart. The plague's outbreak decimates the planet's male population through a series of "reliable" symptoms: hunger pangs, fever, "dermal fissures that wept pus," delirium, aggression, and then, "something clicked on inside whatever remained of the man's brain and he started looking for something to rape, maim, and leave half-dead."

Pregnancy terms are much shorter in this new world, except the fetuses eat their way out. It is a world where testosterone wreaks havoc, making monsters out of men (much more than it already does), and the enemy is trans women, a population under siege by heavily armed factions of feral TERFS (trans-exclusionary radical feminists).

This all might sound as horror-hokey as some of Clive Barker's plotlines, but embedded deep within this universe lies a sturdy framework of resonant queer themes including transphobia, transmisogyny, image shaming, the idealistic framework of "queer community" formation, the politics and stigma of "passing," and the imbalance of cis power and dominance over a perennially assailable trans community.

While these deep undertones keep the book from becoming just one big self-indulgent flesh fest, the plot does get overly complicated mainly with the complexities, varying perspectives, and experiences of its characters as the narration duties oscillate and volley throughout.

As they trek across this deadly new American wasteland, Fran and Beth bond with others. Among them are Robbie, a trans guy widowed by the death of his family and besieged by duplicity and betrayal, and Indi, a cis woman physician who provides the estrogen to those who've become depleted and in danger of spilling their guts to the cannibals, or, worse, becoming one themselves.

There's also Ramona, a TERF who stealthily revolts the movement and remains on the cusp of becoming a turncoat. She emerges as a central figure in the story with her devotion to the fight for justice and to a nonbinary partner named Feather, whose bedroom smelled like that universally relatable bouquet of "sex and weed and Hunan Palace."

For some, of course, this will be a horrifying story; any type of dead-world slasher with complex interwoven sexual dynamics may indeed provoke such reactions. But Felker-Martin is here for fun, and gore, and sexy camaraderie, and not the kind of real-world peril we've all spent the last two years masking and vaxxing.

As a debut talent, Gretchen Felker-Martin daringly demonstrates that a first-time author can indeed write like a pro. She has conjured a gritty, grimy, desperate universe where only the strong survive, or those bold and brave enough to harvest testicles from a scrotum that, when slashed open, "exuded a stink like a bath bomb infused with rancid pork."

You get the idea.

It's a thrilling, brutal spectacle of gross-out splatter-core for those of you willing to take a dip into this vat of gender-fluid pulp. There's really no way to prepare for a book like this, but once you're in, you'll be glad you took the plunge.

Manhunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin, Tor Nightfire, $17.99

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