[Matt is a professional writer and editor, former journalist, and a proud member of the Death Guild (see: Thunderdome) since 2000. We've invited him to write a series of book reviews for the Burning Blog ... this is his first installment. Please note that Matt's opinions don't necessarily reflect those of the Burning Man Organization.]
It’s not easy to write about Burning Man.
By its very nature Burning Man is difficult to describe accurately. Most news articles end up labeling the Burn as some sort of “dance party with art in the desert,” with the possible descriptive word like “rave” or “hippy” thrown in for effect. But as any Burner knows, that’s nowhere near close to what really encompasses a proper description of all that Burning Man is.
The same problem applies to fictional stories set at Burning Man… it’s all well and good to try and set a story at the Burn, but usually they come off a bit like trying to describe a dream you had the night before. No matter how you try and explain it, it won’t come across quite right. The unattainable nature of what makes Burning Man… well, Burning Man, just doesn’t live very well on the page. It’s extremely difficult to accurately get across all the little details of the dust, and the heat, and the body paint and the technobeats long into the morning and everything else that’s a large part of why Burning Man continues year to year.
It was this literary challenge that I had foremost in my mind when I read “The Man Burns Tonight,” by Donn Cortez. Touted as “A Novel of Murder, Madness… and the Burning Man Festival” it follows a Virgin Burner’s arrival at the Gate, and a subsequent murder he’s witness to. That main character, Dexter Edden, escapes the killer by rushing out onto the Playa. He soon fears he’ll be held complicit in the crime, and is therefore forced to interact with a strange cast of Burner characters around him as he tries to prove his innocence, by catching the killer of course.
Dexter Edden is almost the stereotypical newbie Burner in that he’s a nerdish programmer who doesn’t want to be there so much you can almost see the pastiness of his skin. Forced to attend by his overbearing boss who insists he needs to experience something different, Edden’s first such interaction getting spanked by Greeters in drag and running screaming back into his RV, refusing to come out again. Having decided that he’ll begrudgingly spend the rest of the week hiding in the RV with his boss, it’s only witnessing the murder that forces him out to interact with others on the Playa. Which is, of course, where the story begins. Read more »