Venus Marie (a fake name, I’m sure) has written 24 novels. Twenty-three of these are romance novels, their protagonists women who, crushed by the gears of society and hounded by the everpresent shadow of existential dread, escape to the country or a farm or—in the case of a particularly adventurous series—the future, where they inevitably find love. One novel is something else entirely.
I know this because my mom asked for a Venus Marie book for her birthday; I got her the wrong one.
“I got you what you wanted!”
“This must be a different Venus Marie. Or something. Maybe she had a stroke when she wrote this. I don’t know.” Mom sighed, “At least you tried.”
I had gone to the bookstore with Venus
Mary Marie written on a postit that had already served its duty as a grocery list, and made a beeline for the fiction/literature section as usual. I never even thought to check the romance section. There she was, tucked between Javier Marías and Yann Martel. The book was thin, its cover reflective. Life at the End of the World. I have to admit, it didn’t really sound like something Mom would like. The synopsis was, no joke, just, “A man wakes up to find himself in a house of mirrors.” That’s it. Below that was a black-and-white photo of a practical looking woman in a pair of glasses and a cable knit sweater.
I decided to read the book myself (“I read the first couple chapters. Unreadable. You can have it back.”) half out of curiosity and half because the book felt good in my hands.
True to the back of the book, the story opens on a man waking up in a house of mirrors. He finds that every wall in the entire house is a mirror. The ceilings are mirrors. The floors too. Everywhere he looks he encounters endless variations of himself. There are no doors. Most of the walls are at right angles to each other, but some are acute. The man stands between these and watches himself curve away into evergreen infinitude.
Eventually he discovers that, in addition to there being no doors in the house, there is no food. No water either. But he doesn’t feel hungry or thirsty. Maybe the mirrors have altered him in some fundamental way so he doesn’t need sustenance, or maybe he just hasn’t been in the house as long as he thought. Maybe the mirrors warp time.
Not every mirror in the house of mirrors is flat. He finds his image is different in every mirror he checks, and that he can’t recall what he looks like. He becomes sure that his image isn’t changing, but himself. And these differences only intensify throughout the book. At first he found that he was a little taller in one mirror vs another. But eventually he finds mirrors where his head is twice as big as it should be. Or another where his features shift and melt into another, so he looks like a cubist version of himself. Or still another where, through some bizarre trick of the light, it looks as if he has no eyes, no nose, no mouth.
He spends a couple chapters trying to break one of the reflective walls until his fists are bloody and his feet broken. The book only says that he wants to escape, but I honestly have no idea whether it’s meant to imply he wants to escape the house or life.
Finally, the book ends with the man staring at himself in a mirror that he believes to be most accurate in the house (the story cruelly points out that that this mirror is as mendacious as all the others) and has a final realization. He realizes, with utmost certainty, that he is the last person on Earth.
The book has 239 pages, a happy prime. I finished it in a day. I felt like shit for a week afterward.
To give you an idea, here’s the synopsis of the most recent of Marie’s books:
Clarissa’s got everything she could want: a huge house, two sports cars, and a gorgeous boyfriend. But is she truly happy? She decides to quit her job at the biggest firm in NYC and leave for her parents’ ranch upstate. She’s got a lot to learn…good thing rancher Atlon is there to show her the ropes! While he might be a little rough around the edges, this cowboy’s got a heart a gold.
The cover shows a man—Atlon, I suppose—in jeans, a cowboy hat, and an unbuttoned flannel. His eightpack glistening with sweat and lust. His unrealistically uncallused hands wrapped around a blonde in a red dress (Clarissa), a determined look on her face and stilettos in her hand. A stallion doing its thing in the background. Roping Her Heart it says in white lettering at the top.
The author bio shows the same picture as the one on the back Life at the End of the World.
Venus Marie is the bestselling author of more than twenty novels. Roping Her Heart is her twenty-third. She lives in Colorado with her husband and their two cats, Milly and Rascal.
It wasn’t bad. The story is exactly like the synopsis says. Clarissa and Atlon rope a few horses, milk some cows, and chase some pigs in the mud. She’s much happier on the farm, and she and Atlon end up falling in love (of course) and getting married (of course) and having 5 kiddos (whatever floats your boat, I guess). Mr. and Mrs. Clarissa leave the ranch to their daughter. The end. I certainly enjoyed it more than Life at the End of the World.
My mom appreciated it very much when I gave it to her.
I had a dream about mirrors last night because of course I did. You can’t expect to read a creepy book without at least one creepy dream.
It started out with me waking up (cliché of clichés) and starting my morning routine. I showered, the water so hot—or so cold—that it felt like it could melt my bones. Brushed my teeth. Before I could put on clothes, I wiped the steam from the mirror.
The face that looked back was my own, but somehow clearer. Clearer and more perfect than anything I’d ever seen. As if I had forgotten to wear glasses my whole life until that point. I rubbed my eyes to see if there were something wrong with them. I tried to wipe the mirror—maybe something was wrong with it. I checked the mirror behind me. And the ones to the left and right. I checked the mirror on the floor. I looked up. They all showed me the same too-perfect face. I knew then that I could never be as perfect as the infinite mes that floated around me like jellyfish.
At least I was able to figure out something that had been bugging me while I read Life at the End of the World: the source of the weak light that illuminated the mirrors. It turned out it radiated from me and endlessly bounced off the mirrors that towered over me like an accusation.
The dream seemed to go on forever like my ceaseless, ineffable selves.
I woke up slowly. I took a few minutes to collect myself before checking the time on the cracked screen of my phone, which, in the ruins of my dreams, seemed a tiny, shattered mirror.
It was 3:31. I had only slept for 3 hours. It would have to do. There was no way I’d be able to go back to sleep.
On average, Venus’s 23 romances have 487 pages. Their reading level, despite the explicit sexual content, is about 5th grade. Not a lot of hypotaxis, I guess. The average sentence length is 13 words, those words generally short. Not that there isn’t the occasional malodorous or chatoyant, but Venus definitely doesn’t have anything to prove to you.
As stated, Life at the End of the World has 239 pages. The reading level is 13th grade according to the program I inputted the text into. (I guess I must’ve skipped a grade.) The average sentence length is an incredible 31 words. As high as Leaves of Grass. I had to use my handy dandy dictionary for what felt like every other word while reading.
I spent a few sleepless nights compiling that.
I’ve been avoiding looking at my reflection lately.
It’s made driving difficult. A couples days ago I caught my baggy and bloodshot eye in the rearview while at a red light, and I know—I know!—that I was just seeing things because I was sleep-deprived or I’m misremembering or something. But it looked like my eye was not quite right. It was too wide, and the eyelashes were too short.
I rubbed both eyes so hard I could feel my eye jelly squish. I saw the purple and green ghosts of sight. What else could I do? I nearly pissed myself when someone beeped at me, overlong I might add, when the light turned green.
Venus Marie has a Hotmail email address.
I found it while scouring her online fan club. The forums bore no mention of Life at the End of the World. There were quite a few threads ranking which love interest was the hottest (Bartholomew Orbis IV was a universal fan favorite. I felt a little bad for Atlon, to tell the truth.) and at least one pointing out the many plot holes in the story set in the future (“Its forgivable that someone can become there own grandpa…but its hard for me to believ that Charlotte became her own grandaughter???”), but nothing concerning the mirror book. I even made my own thread hoping to get any sort of response. The line I sent out was “So where does everyone stand on Life at the End of the World??” I commented on it myself after a couple dead hours (“I think it’s pretty freaky, but I can’t help thinking about it. It’s like it’s infected me.”), a gesture which felt a bit to me like a busker giving herself a dollar. I got a response the next day: Isnt that that book by the Japanese guy? I thought it was pretty freaky too. I think youre in the wrong forum tho.
I sent a short, cordial email to Venus asking her how she wrote her books, and was surprised by how quickly she responded.
“I dream them! That’s what I like about writing. That we can dream together. Thanks, V.”
“So what kind of dream was Life at the End of the World?”
After a couple hours with no response, I sent a followup. “Is it a night terror?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. V.”
I took a picture of the front and back of the book, making sure not to catch my own eye in the silvered front cover, and sent it to her.
She didn’t respond.
I stared at the screen until it went dead, and briefly saw my reflection there.
I tried to pretend that the face I saw was the one I remembered as my own.
Larry Glines was born and raised in Las Vegas, NV. He moved to Gainesville, FL to study Physics at University of Florida, where he currently lives with his wife and their bratty dog, Poncho. Larry has a black belt in jiu-jitsu, which he teaches. His favorite color is purple.