Frade Killed Ellen by Alex Kudera
Stars: 4 - Strongly Recommended by Lavinia
Released July 2015
Publisher: Dutch Kills Press
Reviewed by Lavinia Ludlow
With a title like Frade Killed Ellen, it’s easy to assume some cheap Law and Order-like rip off, but on the contrary, Alex Kudera’s recent release is more of a psychological thriller. A suspenseful depiction of a publishing industry predator and the young-ish, naïve, and ambitious prey he lures, this tale uncovers the heartbreaking fall of a fragile and impressionable female writer and the literary frat boy/man who contributes to her demise.
Similar to the darkly comical film “Adult World” wherein the young female writer squanders money meant for insurance on submission fees and poetry journals, Ellen blows what little cash she has on writing conferences and contest fees, and spends the time she has in between writing, vying for attention from an older and successful writer (see also: married with kids).
Any struggling writer, musician, or artist could find this story hauntingly easy to identify with. Ellen gets caught up in the consequences of one bad decision of the next, and her obvious misguided ambitions are in need of a life coach (or self-esteem in a pill) to wrangle them down from the clouds. At times, I wished there was someone much more influential in her life to guide (save) her than a distant and, at times, vapid narrator, who acts somewhat like a neutral yet highly neurotic Nick Carraway. He would sit with Ellen, attempt to talk her off the ledge, and futilely try to guide her away from the jaws of a womanizing senior writer.
…I’d tell her about the nicer life she could have, the things she could own, that sort of thing. She said she just couldn’t be phony. She couldn’t do sales. So what could she do? She could be a writer, she said. It was writer, yes, or housewife, or famous writer’s wife, and not much else. In other words, nothing that generated income. She was gentle and delicate. Too sensitive for sales as well as Frade’s hands.
High in conflict from start to end, the premonition of Ellen’s demise makes the narrative that much more tragic, and Kudera consistently ties the conflict back to the major dramatic issue at hand. This story is a reminder of how difficult it is to survive against the odds, against one’s self, whether a writer, musician, artist, what have you. For anyone who’s aspirations were ever victim to use and abuse, this short story will pull (or even sever) your heart strings.
Lavinia Ludlow is a musician, writer, and occasional contortionist. Her debut novel alt.punk can be purchased through major online retailers as well as Casperian Books’ website. Her sophomore novel Single Stroke Seven was signed to Casperian Books and will release in the distant future. In her free time, she is a reviewer at Small Press Reviews, The Nervous Breakdown, American Book Review, and now The Next Best Book Blog.