Bone Game A Novel
Too Close to Home: The Horrific Nature of Paul Kantner
The narrative of a man who kills women because he feels sexually rejected is unfortunately an all too common one in society. There exists a feeling of entitlement that is remarkably antifeminist, but that also quickly extends into areas of race. The horrifying aspect of Paul Kantner in Bone Game is not simply the fact that he is killing women and violating their bodies; it is that he feels he has a right to do so due to his twisted psyche and as a result of his gender and race.
Although the simple fact that Kantner is killing women indicates a lack of respect, this is further highlighted by his word choice. When he describes the women trying to get away from him, he states that the women “became hysterical,” which is inherently gendered (Owens 219). Firstly, only women are ever described as hysterical, and it carries a connotation of someone who is unreasonably upset. Realistically, running through the woods to get away from a serial killer is a perfectly reasonable time to become upset. It may somewhat impede the process of getting away, which could be an argument to try and keep it together, but it is a bit too much to expect someone to be collected while fighting for their life. Furthermore, most people value their lives and would react poorly to someone trying to take it away, regardless of gender. This instance is just a moment that subtly reveals Kantner’s deep-seated misogyny, which is further established as the passage goes on. Next, he describes the women’s efforts to get away “almost comical,” emphasizing his lack of empathy that must exist for him to be able to carry out these crimes (Owens 220). The reaction of readers is remarkably different when confronted with the idea of a woman tripping while running for her life. It elicits a sense of dread and impending doom. While it seems like she has a chance to make it out alive when she is running, the moment she falls, one can feel the murderer getting closer and much hope is lost. Kantner, as the murderer, feels very differently about this happenstance as it gets him closer to the culmination of his work. His joy sharply contrasts the readers’ fear, which in turn, heightens that fear. Because he is reacting in an inhuman way, he becomes further removed from a normal realm and becomes more abjectly horrible in his difference.
This fear of his difference grows upon learning that he killed his mother. When he claims that “even my mother tried that [lying bullshit to save her life], but it was too late for her,” the audience sees that his lack of empathy even extends to his mother (Owens 220). While it is not incredibly surprising that he killed his mother first due to the fact that she was most likely his first source of female rejection, the kind of person who has the ability to kill their innocent mother clearly lacks a piece that makes them human. Additionally, the fact that he believed she was lying to save her own life shows a distrust and stubbornness that is difficult to account for. Of course the mother would probably do anything to avoid dying, but it is also entirely possible that she wanted her son to know something along the lines of that she did love him and valued their relationship. Because the reader is not present for this scene between Kantner and his mother, it is unknown whether she was trying to manipulate him or not, but it is clear to the reader that Katner lacks some degree of proper perception and his interpretation of events cannot be trusted. The killing of his mother marks him as unreasonable because he could not be reasoned with, by the person who arguably knows him best, to not kill his mother. If his mother could not convince him, then Abby and Alex have no chance. This hopelessness solidifies the fear that violence is inevitable.
His negative relations with women cumulate in the horrific moment when Abby and Alex learn that Kantner has been burying the heads in his backyard. He claims, “every night I talk to them. I say affectionate things, like you would say to a girlfriend or even a wife,” creating terribly frightening images of him speaking to dismembered heads that just stare blankly back at him (Owens 220). The fact that he speaks to these heads that cannot speak back is significant. In the silencing of these women, he has fully established himself as superior to the women. He has taken all their power and agency, which results in further empowerment for himself. Because his insecurities stem from women’s rejection of him, this situation makes them unable to even resist him, much less reject him. This extends when he says, “death’s a transition I didn’t pay any attention to,” which brings up near-necrophilia ideas (Owens 220). If the death of these women makes it easier for him to create a relationship with them, then his focus is clearly on the body rather than the person. He does not want the intellectual stimulation or even the reciprocation of conversation, apparently, or at the very least is not too perturbed to live without them. This is the ultimate objectification of women as they become unable-to-object bodies, without the traits that make them people. The loss of bodily autonomy is a scary concept, and the abuse of power Kantner utilizes relies on the appropriation of another’s body for his desires. This power causes near-panic because it is essentially giving up oneself. These women now lack identity, individualism, and agency and even in death they are disrespected.
It should not be overlooked that in this scene, Kantner believes he is about to kill two girls of Native American descent. Due to the fact that he is a white male, this creates parallels to the appropriation of Native American land that has occurred for centuries. Kantner feels he has a right to abuse and kill these women because he believes he has a right to their bodies. Similarly, ideas like Manifest Destiny gave people the impression that everything was for the taking, whether that be land, resources, or people. This entitlement is clearly dangerous and indicative of a greater problem. These people felt entitlement because they felt they were superior to those they were taking from. At least in Kantner’s case, it is clear that he did not respect women or value their lives; he only viewed them as how they could improve his life. This is an incredibly self-centered view, but it is somewhat encouraged by a society that establishes hierarchical structures. There exists a rhetoric that could make Kantner believe he is owed relationships from women, despite doing little to encourage those relationships. As exemplified by his actions, this rhetoric is problematic and dangerous.
This moment with Kantner is horrifying because it does not feel fictional. Every so often, a story will appear in the news depicting events similar to those that Kantner perpetrated. This sense of entitlement still exists and rears its ugly head in incredibly detrimental ways. The idea that a person could have such little empathy for their fellow humans is remarkably terrifying. But an aspect of this scene is frightening because it is unclear whether or not Alex and Abby will escape with their lives. Facing off against such a large and imposing figure means that physicality is probably not going to be a successful method of escape, but Kantner is clearly beyond reason, so talking their way out of the situation seems impossible as well. If not for Alex’s cross-dressing tendencies that led Kantner to underestimate him, there was a large chance that they both would be killed. The fear in this scene stems from the anxiety of an impossible situation, along with a broader fear of the society that created this villain that feels no empathy or shame for the crimes he has committed.