Everyday Psychokillers looks and sounds like a thriller: the cover (a portrait of a sliced-up face) promises an encounter with Ted Bundy, or the notorious “Nipple-digger”—or at least a neighborhood creep. But Lucy Corin’s debut reads less like Bret Easton Ellis than Annie Dillard—poetic, plotless, full of intricate descriptions of lizards and swamps. The book, which elegantly bobs along from one creepy anecdote to another, is not about psychokillers, but the boredom and desperation that makes them appealing. The nameless thirteen-year-old narrator lives in a Florida suburb that is “just more obviously bad than other places.” Like Dillard, who stares at birds for so long that she starts tweeting, the narrator thinks about her freaky culture so much that she begins wondering, casually, what it would be like to kill another girl.
Her fascination begins when the head of six-year-old Adam Walsh (whose father goes on to host America’s Most Wanted) is found in a nearby canal. In awe, she wonders when she’ll be kidnapped, but her mother tells her she’s not “rich” enough—she promptly processes this as not “lucky” enough. Stuck in a town that’s like a “raft” perched over the “muck and ruins of the Everglades,” she sees the act of psychokilling—“dissecting… arranging… preparing… codifying”—as civilizing. Imagining her abduction, she pictures herself frolicking around a mossy stone cottage with sixteen other girls in their nightgowns.
The book combines cute, seemingly incidental observations with meditations on nature, history, and myth. For the protagonist, a dutiful citizen, psychokillers are her town’s mascot, its only claim to fame. She reinterprets the Haitian Slave Revolt, the myth of Osiris, and the Venus de Milo as freaky metaphors of dismemberment, as if by doing so she can insert her deadbeat region (canonized by the likes of Carl Hiaasen) into some grander narrative.
As she rakes recent and not-so-recent history for all the ways in which children have been mutilated or penetrated or victimized, she makes lists of the “composite psychokiller”’s traits. She wants to understand why she isn’t a killer, eventually concluding that the discrepancy is linguistic. The sociopath is a literalist: he doesn’t get innuendo or subtlety. When he says, “I want to fuck your brains out,” it means something very specific, more than just an expression of anger. A self-described unformed “bowl of oatmeal,” the narrator understands metaphor too well. She can’t separate herself from her limp, exhausted town and sees herself as “a series of girls, one after another, and overlapping.” Packed with striking analogies (“alligators glazed like cupcakes,” clothes slipping off locker benches like “surrealist clocks”), Everyday Psychokillers is a coming-of-age story, but it’s also an eerie document about the narrator’s town. Everyone wants to leave, but no one does: the air is languid and savage—psychokillers materialize like the logical result of bad weather. American Psycho didn’t need to describe its setting (when the killer turns on Madison Avenue, toward Barneys, everyone knows where he is), but this swampy space has never been plotted or mapped. By keeping track of all the freaks who pass through the town, Corin writes the “puddlelike” place into being.