Saturday, September 23, 2017

THE SNAKE HANDLER by Cody Goodfellow and J. David Osborne

"I could never repent, because that was not my role, any more than it's yours. Heaven needs Hell. And Man needs a scapegoat for all the lies he tells himself."
Although the narrative lacked the momentum I was hoping for, this book is nowhere near safe or formulaic. This story of serpent handling evangelist preacher and small town drug dealer Clyde Hilburn being forced to confront his sins after he's bit by a snake someone put in his mailbox is still pretty memorable and has lots of things to say about sin, God, and morality. The tone of the novel really works to parallel Clyde's slow succumbing to the snake venom that he should be used to by now. I loved the writing and the fact that it's written as a prayer to God. It's an unflinching and savage collaboration between two great authors. And the redneck shootout in Walmart will probably go down as one of my favorite scenes in any book this year.

This is yet another brave and unique piece of work from Broken River Books, one of the best publisher's out there.


Monday, September 11, 2017

BEHOLD THE VOID by Philip Fracassi

One of the things that's very apparent in every story in this collection, and with all of Fracassi's work, is the intense focus on developing character. Some might say that it's even too much and not necessary for the short scary stories he writes, but I would respectfully disagree and it's an aspect in his work that I really appreciate. Good horror, to me, is inherently linked to character, and even more so here. Yes, these 9 stories feature occult horror, ghost stories, and cosmic horror, but the thread that really runs strong through most of them is the horror that has its roots buried deep in broken family relationships and parenthood.

Fracassi takes his time with each story, setting up it's world and characters, making the payoff that much more rich by the end. The best examples of this are in the standout stories "Mandala," "Fail-Safe," and "Mother," a story that packs the most stunning prose I've read so far by Fracassi.

And to think, the guy is basically just getting started.
Common sense assures us of the invalidity of demons and sharp-clawed creatures of the night, but we still can't help wonder if there's something there, waiting to drag itself toward us and slide it's cold wet claws around our neck, empowered because we gave it what it needed. We gave it the dark.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

ROUGHNECK by Jeff Lemire

Many of you might snicker at the fact that I've been reading comic books lately. Or at least just straight-up ignore the reviews. But those serious readers of rural grit lit authors like Daniel Woodrell, Benjamin Whitmer, and Ron Rash would definitely do well by checking out this recent graphic novel by the inimitable Jeff Lemire.

This multi-faceted work of art is a focused and personal drama focusing on Derek Ouellette, a disgraced hockey player turned violent, lonely drunk, and his efforts to reconnect with his estranged drug addict sister after she stumbles back into his life.
I'm so damn impressed by how much Lemire can do with so little. One of the things I LOVED LOVED LOVED the most about Roughneck was its lack of any narration, which is a convention used in almost every comic book/graphic novel I've read, and is mostly used too much as a crutch to help convey backstory and inner thought, since prose is usually not an option. But Lemire doesn't take the easy route and gives us just the amount of info we need through dialogue, expressions, and most important: imagery. It was so refreshing. And speaking of the imagery, Lemire really knows how to tell a story in visuals. There are great motifs here and the Canadian landscapes are rendered in cold, gray/blue tones, only broken by elements of memory, the past, by the things that haunt the characters, all depicted in saturated color.

Roughneck is about the choices you make: the choices in the past and the ones in the present, how they're intrinsically related, and how the time will come when you must come to terms with them. Pimitamon, the name of the fictional town where the book takes place, is the Cree word for "crossroad." Jeff Lemire seems to basically is in a class of his own in the comic book world and shows everyone else how to do it.


Saturday, September 2, 2017

BLOOD'S A ROVER by James Ellroy

*Book 3 of the Underworld U.S.A Trilogy*

Ellroy seems like he's running out of steam here. Story-wise and stylistically, this novel fits right in as the final book in the Underworld USA trilogy, where he documents his own version of the history of this country's turbulent '60's, with this book pulling us from the MLK and Bobbie Kennedy assassinations and into the early 70's with the Nixon years and the Black Power movement. But it's a far cry from the quality of his masterpiece American Tabloid, and surprisingly, I even liked it a little less than the disappointing A Cold Six Thousand. While those two previous books had solid structures that moved on a path to their respective inevitable events in history, the historical material here doesn't provide such a trajectory, and much of it started to feel really repetitive. Even though it's an easier read than Cold Six, the main characters here were barely engaging. The book's best character by far, the fascinating FBI/Black Power Movement double agent Marshall Bowen, is relegated to mostly journal entries, where the book would've been so much better if he was a POV character!

I still love Ellroy's work in general but in this one, he  either run out of interesting material to fill an epic novel, or the good stuff that he did have was misused.