Wednesday, April 23, 2014

April Reviews: The First One You Expect by Adam Cesare; Street Raised by Pearce Hansen; The Elvis Room by Stephen Graham Jones; The Walls of the Castle by Tom Piccirilli; The Cormorant by Stephen Gregory

Well April has been a busy month, due to attending the HP Lovecraft Film Festival & CthulhuCon in Portland, finishing up my Masters degree, and wrapping up work on The Children of Old Leech, the anthology I co-edited with Ross E. Lockhart. My reading has definitely slowed down, but I've managed to finish several shorter works. I don't want to neglect the blog, so I'm breaking from my traditional way of posting by fitting many short reviews in one blog post.

I rather enjoyed this novella from Broken River Books. It was my first time reading Cesare, and won't be the last. The novella follows a youngish deadbeat who works at a grocery store and makes ultra low budget, extreme horror films with his best friend. A sexy new employee starts working at the grocery store, and shows quite an interest in the narrator's films as well as his knife collection, and it isn't long before she's on board to be his next star. What starts out as a geek's wet dream soon becomes a nightmare. Cesare does an excellent job at creating a tense plot in a short amount of time, and rocket forward without letting the story lose any momentum. The narrator evokes equal parts sympathy and disgust. On one hand he seems trapped on the downward-sloping ride his life has become, yet on the other he himself is just as complicit and undeserving of sympathy. Time to seek out more books by Adam Cesare.

One of the five launch titles for Broken River Books was a stripped, revised edition of Peace Hansen's Street Raised. I had heard a lot about this book, and had recently read a King in Yellow tale by Hansen in A Season in Carcosa. The novel is short, dirty, and brutal. Recently released con Speedy rallies his old comrades, junkie brother Willie and tough sidekick Fat Bob, in order to pull one last job before settling down. At times the book felt too stripped down, and too short for all that was going on: vicious Mexican drug dealers, a creepy junkie serial killer that felt underused, and an angry and vengeance seeking gang of skinheads. While everything happens so fast that it often felt difficult to connect with the characters, it doesn't come across as a flaw. Instead, this approach mirrors the story itself. It's fast, it's ugly, and it's filled with characters who don't really give a shit. A fun, bloody book, this is yet another success for Broken River Books.

A favorite author of mine, Stephen Graham Jones has proven himself time and time again that he is an author that can bring it, no matter the genre. The Elvis Room is a chapbook from This is Horror, and a foray into supernatural horror. This novella follows a middle-aged professor, once disgraced and pushed into fringe circles due to an experiment to disprove the supernatural that backfired. The man needs something else to prove himself, and makes a discovery about ghosts and hotels which seems like it could be his ticket. Jones often shows a kind of genius with his ideas, and this novella is no exception. Clever, eerie, and beautiful, snag this limited novella before it's gone. (Edit: Looks like the chapbook is Sold Out, but the novella is available on Kindle)

This one is the first in the Black Labyrinth line from Dark Regions Press, and if it's any indication of what's to come then sign me up for the subscriber's package. This trippy short novel (novella?) follows a man known as Kasteel, a grieving father who becomes a fixture at The Castle, a huge labyrinthian hospital complex. After losing his son he finds himself becoming a sort of angel in the machine, helping patients in need and striking up friendships with strays from the psych ward. Every angel must have a devil, and eventually Kasteel finds himself up against Abaddon, his opposite. The labyrinth in this story is multifaceted. In the literal sense, The Castle itself is a labyrinth. A man can live in it for weeks and barely be noticed. The labyrinth also manifests itself figuratively in Kasteel's fractured mind. His grief for his son has become a labyrinth that he has found himself lost in. He doesn't even recall his real name, adopting Kasteel (Castle) as he becomes the building's angel. The story is a beautiful tale of a man trying to do good and find himself, a violent ex-con who has been broken and is attempting to put the pieces together. The only flaw is that the climax comes quickly and seems abrupt, where it seems it should be a bit longer. Otherwise it's a solid, psychological noir that shouldn't be missed.

This is the oldest book on the list, originally seeing print in 1986, and recently (in 2013) reprinted by Valancourt Books. I picked this one up after seeing some weird fiction readers and authors highly recommend it. I found the story to be mesmerizing, although it was completely unlike my expectations. A young married couple and their toddler son inherit an uncle's cottage in the Welsh countryside, as well as his unusual pet bird, a cormorant which the husband names Archie. The couple hardly knew the uncle, so the arrangement is highly unusual. As seems obvious, the arrangement doesn't work out well at all, and it's painful watching the family struggle with the often vicious, disgusting bird. Gregory has written an unforgettable weird novel, one which manages to twist expectations and have a field day toying with the emotions of readers. Sympathies will not remain static, as shocking scenes manage to completely subvert the readers feelings. This bizarre little novel should be on every weird fiction reader's list.

No comments:

Post a Comment