This was one of those times where I knew I should have read a bunch of stuff from a “big name” in the contemporary horror space and hadn’t, and then put things off even longer… because now it’s built-up harder than Black Panther on BluRay, and because it sucks to be disappointed, and with expectations this high, going in…
Yet unlike everything else in my life, it was very nice to be wrong in this case. Burke looked at the high bar I’d set, scoffed, and called for a vaulting pole. I can’t pretend to like him as a result, and I hope he moves houses twice a year for the remainder of his life. Oops, where was I?
So, the plot shows exceptional control, the prose is masterful, the emotional impact is gut-wrenching (and knows it). Overall, this was a novella-sized but surprisingly “rough” plot that hurts so much you’ll end thinking you just read emotionally-vested splatterpunk, only to realize the grisly death count was… ridiculously low?
Simply put, this is a must-read for all horror fans. Heck, give it to a normie that smiles too much. You’ll feel better, because they won’t. Take that, happy person!
There’s too much good here to cover adequately. Also, much of the “good” in horror and in literature is subtle: a turn of phrase, a minor detail, a twist of plot. Namely, stuff that for various reasons, is difficult to list and discuss without quoting from the book or risking spoilers.
A word on the quality, though. You could quote fifty lines from this one. Put them on bookmarks, that sort of thing. It’s off the charts. Not every sentence explodes, of course, but, pound for pound, good luck doing any better. Burke can trade punches with anything you’ll read not only in horror, but literature of any kind. The descriptions, the inner monologues, the terror, the perspectives, the dialogue… all of it, just fantastic.
Complaints? Let’s try to scrape the barrel. Fine, the erratic use of the comma in a few places, I guess? Whatever.
There’s not much humor, but this isn’t a feel-good party of a book, and while it is bleak and relentless, there is one (dark) instance that made me laugh aloud (in bed, at three in the morning, much to the joy of others). For the curious, this was a scene of devastating nihilism in which the narrator contemplates attempting, and failing, to explain the magnitude of an unspeakable loss to young people. So absurd, and true, that it was… funny? Ahhh, so freaking good.
I was supposed to be picking at stuff, and there I went complimenting again. Uh, what else… some authors have a set of words they shuffle like cards, a sort of higher vocabulary that can be annoying if you binge ten books together. Burke has a way with words and sprinkles a few “I love that word!” entries throughout, but he’s not out of his range at any given point. Ever. This being the first Burke novel/novella I’ve read, who knows, maybe he uses “incumbent” twice a book, but I can’t see that being true.
I’m trying really hard to complain and falling (happily) short. I will suggest you avoid the description/blurb if you don’t like movie trailers that say or show “too” much. The blurb doesn’t spoil the first page, or chapter… it spoils a secret that is not revealed until you are 59% into this read, if you trust Kindle math. It’s not a full Keyser Söze, but it’s something that could have been impactful and, instead, halfway through, it’s simply a note that you have caught-up to the dust jacket’s summary (assuming you read the blurb).
Here’s the corrected blurb: hide the razor blades, buy this, read this, and board the gloom train. So you liked The Mist? Thought the Pet Sematary remake was jovial? Hang from your piercings on weekends? Yeah, this one’s for you.
Anyway. A couple of final thoughts: the cover art is spot-on, the price is not prohibitive, and the page count is short. Here’s my autopsy on the length of this book: remember Bruce Lee’s famous one-inch punch? That. Filler wasn’t added to this evil black donut. Just pain, and misery, and successive waves of nothingness.
The very, very end might disappoint a subset of readers who prefer less clarity of resolution (me, in this case). Everything else made me want to find a tall bridge over a raging current, and I personally felt the final page, omitted, would have been the last cruel kiss I used to leap, arms wide, into the void.
Which is to say, I should probably thank Mr. Burke for saving my life, but, considering what he put me through… I won’t.