The Sun is a Circle Meant for Serving: P.W. Feutz
I am amazed by how much Feutz managed to pack into a 91-page novella while still achieving the right balance between showing and telling.
The protagonist, Katrin, is a filmmaker, and not a particularly successful one. She was brought up by traumatised ex-cultists who taught her never to trust anyone, and she often wonders whether her industry is as cut-throat as it seems, or her perception is coloured by her parents. Needing a new project, she heeds the mantra “write what you know,” and investigates contemporary cults and their enigmatic leaders. Katrin and a younger filmmaker, Cory, arrange to interview and film the members of the Highest Seeking Faithful at their compound. Katrin doesn’t know what to expect, and when they reach their destination, her view of the cultists wavers from middle-class eccentrics to self-deluding lunatics. However, eager to make the best of the situation, she takes the opportunity to brush up on her skills while trying to put her scepticism aside and keep her mind open.
The true strength of this book is Feutz’s ability to create vivid descriptions using short paragraphs. In some ways his spare prose reminds me of Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory, and as a fan of Banks’ work, I do not use the comparison lightly.
“…hunched over the wheel for a better look at the snowcaps, searing white on gray whalebacks, turning the horizon two-dimensional.”
“…a massive fire pit alongside a curved, blackened beam that stuck up from the ground and toward the pit like the angel of death’s finger.”
Most of the story is a slow burn. Yes, there are moments when things feel wrong or at least askew, but until the final thirty pages, there are no scares and very little threat. Even when the action ramps up, we are not faced with torture, terror, or spine-tingling horror. Awe is far more prevalent than fear in this narrative.
What are the cultists trying to guide to their camp with that torch-lit landing strip? Are they careless campers, or is there another reason for the charred wood around the cabins? And why are they willing to invite two unknown filmmakers to witness their weekend rituals?
We want to understand, and like Katrin, we refuse to turn away when faced with the final reveal.
Is it horror? That depends on your definition. If you want gore and moments of revulsion, you won’t find them here. But if you enjoy the feeling of mild unease and the gradual building of dread that Gothic stories provide, this novella will serve you well.
The Sun is a Circle Meant for Serving by P.W. Feutz
A burnt-out filmmaker. A mysterious cult. She’s hoping to break out with a true-crime hit. She’ll find true horror instead.
Katrin has spent years grinding on the LA indie film scene, throwing herself into her work to make up for a sheltered upbringing by embittered ex-cultists. Now she’s crashing on her friend Nira’s couch, burnt out and fed up after one too many petty humiliations. She has no prospects, no confidence, and no future.
Then, one night, she learns about a controversial religious movement that sounds an awful lot like the one to which her parents belonged. Desperate to get back on her feet, and egged on by Nira, she starts an investigation into the Highest Seeking Faithful, hoping it leads to the hottest new true-crime documentary.
Joined by an old friend’s little brother, a budding filmmaker and cult survivor himself, Katrin accepts an invitation to the group’s compound in the Sierra Nevada. The idea is to uncover the group’s dirty secrets by letting its leaders tell on themselves. But what Katrin doesn’t know is that the group has other things to share with her, and some of those things might not even be within their control.