DUSK AND SUMMER, by Joseph Pinto

I met Joe through friends of writer friends. He is a contributor to the esteemed Pen of the Damned writing collective, a friendly commentor on my blog, and has the sweet charm and humor found most purely in horror authors. He asked if I would host him as part of a blog tour to announce and celebrate the publication of his newest book, DUSK AND SUMMER, and I agreed because I like Joe, and I enjoy his work with Pen of the Damned. I didn’t know what to expect of DUSK AND SUMMER, but what I got was a new perspective on aging, life, and learning how to live with the specter of mortality.

If you haven’t read Joe’s guest post, please do! If you haven’t read DUSK AND SUMMER, you can puchase it here:

Amazon: US |UK | Canada | Australia | Germany | France | Spain | Italy | Japan | Mexico | India | Brazil

CreateSpace | Smashwords

Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iTunes (Apple)

Joe is donating a portion of the proceeds to the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research.

Pancreatic Cancer

Please leave a review for Joe on Amazon or Goodreads!

xoxo,

-aniko


DuskAndSummerThere are two types of coming of age stories. The common one, with which we are all familiar, examines the psychological and emotional landscape of a boy becoming a man. The less common concerns the next great leap, a transition for which we have no name, but which happens when our parents pass away and we are left to understand a world in which we are the elders, the guardians, the guides. DUSK AND SUMMER, a novella by Joseph Pinto, is of the latter type.

In the forward, Pinto reveals that he lost his father to the ravages of pancreatic cancer. DUSK AND SUMMER is Pinto’s tribute to the man who loved, raised, and inspired him. It is a beautiful elegy that transcends the personal nature of the content to reveal something essential about life: DUSK AND SUMMER shows us the unselfish nature of love. Love, in Pinto’s narrative, is about shared moments as much as it is about knowing when to let go, and intuiting the wholeness that only death can restore. Eons ago, Epictetus advised  “never say about anything, I have lost it, but say I have restored it.” People of faith have ritual and community to guide them to acceptance. If there is a hereafter, then Omega is Alpha, and the only reason we cannot recognize that in the same dry, factual way in which we recognize the elements in the periodic table is because we are limited – locked into – our Now, our Here. The challenge of discovering faith in a “beyond” is the hallmark of this second, nameless coming of age. DUSK AND SUMMER is the story of moving to the acceptance that what is lost, who is lost, is restored to wholeness in a way we cannot rationalize, touch, or mentally conceive.

***Spoiler Alert! Some plot points are revealed in the next paragraph, but the true magic of the myth is preserved. You’ll love the way Pinto brings it all together, so get the book!***

Pinto presents his theory of this transition as a myth. Myth is the most natural means humans have to absorb ideas that exist outside of reason. DUSK AND SUMMER leads the protagonist, an intentionally unnamed Everyman, on a mystical  journey from the symbolically laden memories of the Tolten, a sunken ship, to the concrete locale of 141 Sea Cargo Drive. His dying father sent him there, with instructions to do what must be done. A woman of otherworldly beauty meets him on the beach. The protagonist understands, with a soul-shock, that he is tasked with helping her guide his father’s soul to the other side. Initially, he fights the idea of his father’s departure. This is the vestige of the child in him, crying and gripping his father’s trouser leg. It is this sentimental attachment that must give way to unselfish acceptance in the second coming of age. His father gave him everything he needs to enter the second stage of adulthood, and to honor all his father gave, the son must let go. The son fully takes on the strength which was in the father, and uses it to carry his father across the threshold to a new life. The end of a life, and of DUSK AND SUMMER, is bittersweet. The myth is completed, and the narrator arrives in the next phase of his maturity. DUSK AND SUMMER is a beautiful tribute, and a salve for all psyches battered by the loss of a beloved parent.


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Welcome to the Swamp! Monster! Massacre!

It was a Friday when I started reading Swamp Monster Massacre. The day hadn’t been stellar; I was supposed to meet friends for lunch, and I got so lost, I ended up missing lunch and just heading back to the office with a soggy sandwich from a nearby cafe. To cheer myself up, I decided to take a quick peek at Hunter Shea’s newest novella. An hour later, I remembered where I was. I sent Hunter an email telling him I was strongly considering spending the afternoon reading – even if it meant I got fired. Swamp Monster Massacre is that good. I can’t think of another book that keeps such a frenetic pace and still tells a riveting story that hangs together better than a band of angry swamp apes. I ended up getting back to work (and, yes, staying late to make up the time I lost driving around who-knows-where-Austin)…. but the story had me in thrall. Horror fans, rejoice! Swamp Monster Massacre is the action-adventure blood’n’guts fix you’ve been craving! 

Adopt a swamp ape!

Read a preview & get a chance to win a monster!

Swamp Monster Massacre Blog Tour Info – lots of blogs to visit!

He resembled every childhood nightmare of the bogeyman, except this one murdered the monster under your bed.

How bad do things have to be for the bogeyman to be the good guy? That is the question posed by Hunter Shea in Swamp Monster Massacre. The answer is a swift tour of an Everglades hell that includes violently severed limbs, a rotten stench, a masterfully disgusting combination of necrophilia and bestiality, and death. Lots of death. Swamp Monster Massacre is a breathless amalgam of action and horror with a higher than average gore content, but it is also an examination of the dark nature of revenge.

***

Rooster has a temper. A damn bad temper that’s caused him to put his fist through another man’s skull. Sure, it wouldn’t have killed the guy if he hadn’t done all that blow and rotted his own skull, but the simple fact is that Rooster killed a drug kingpin’s son. And what are drug kingpins notorious for if not avenging the death of their own? Rooster’s got a problem.

He’s also got a bag of money and a bigger bag of guns.

Rooster’s on the run in Florida, and he ends up on a pier. A amphibious tour plane is docked at the end, loaded up with tourists waiting to get a bird’s eye view of the Everglades. They get Rooster instead; Rooster and a barrage of bullets fired by angry drug dealers.

The passenger manifest is varied. There are two co-eds, blonde as the Doublemint twins and  trained in Marine combat technique. A pair of slickly groomed guys from NYC are tough talkers. A couple of empty-nest snow-birds are trying to rekindle their romance. There’s a dork, skipping out on a conference. The guest list is rounded out by the grizzled pilot, who is no longer captain of his airship. Throw in Rooster with his guns, and things are about to get wild.

All of these characters have names, but there isn’t any need to know names in this story. Not only are names meaningless when fighting for your life, they are also meaningless if you lose that fight. Lots of characters lose, but not because they mutiny against Rooster and cause the plane to crash.

They lose because they crash land in the territory of the skunk apes, reeking beasts eight-feet tall and twice a brutal. These are the titular swamp monsters, and they live up to their terrifying name and stench. They hunt the humans, employing amazing battle tactics that will leave you in  awe of both Shea’s inventiveness and his ability to make even the insanely bizarre believable.

(((( SPOILER ALERT: Read at own risk! ))))

(((( To read, left click and drag mouse over white space. ))))

The swamp monsters aren’t just picking on the humans because they have trespassed. They are attacking for revenge. When the plane crashed, it mauled and killed a swamp monster child. Mommy is mad, and all the child monster’s big brothers and sisters have joined Mommy’s hunt. This echoes the kingpin’s henchmen slavering to kill Rooster because he accidentally murdered one of their own. When it comes down to bloody revenge, no one in this book comes out looking any better than a monster. One of the NYC boys is taken by the swamp monsters early, and his friend becomes a blind instrument of revenge, taking stupid chances that cost him his life. Shea doesn’t sugar coat his view on revenge: it turns you into an animal. A stupid animal.

If you like monster stories, action movies, and some really fun lines, this is an excellent book for you. The point of view hops between characters, which prevents you from getting too invested in any one scenario, but that plays into the frenetic tempo of the tale well enough that it is a strength rather than a fault. Like the single-minded intent of revenge, Swamp Monster Massacre is a fast-paced read that doesn’t let up.

Click here to buy the book!

What The Guild Said to Me about Indies, Fame, and Frittata

The Guild: Season Five is being re-released on the Geek and Sundry YouTube channel. I watched the season on Netflix as soon as it was available, so consider this a Spoiler Alert!! I’ll be discussing aspects of the show that have not aired yet in their new home, so please – watch then read! -aniko

Season Five, like all of The Guild webisodes, spouts clever dialog pertaining to funny scenarios. It is an entertaining, giggle-inducing foray into a gamer convention replete with coffee-scented farts, steampunk, and frittata.  If that’s all Season Five offered, it would be a likable frolic.

Season Five didn’t stop there. Instead, it took on bigger questions. What is the relationship between creator and fan? Do fans have warped perceptions of famous people? Are indies offering unique content that can’t be duplicated by bigger companies, even if they acquire the rights to indie-produced content?

To maintain the fizzy-fun of the show without sacrificing depth, the examination of these questions is incorporated organically into the plot. The Guildees are at a convention, MegaGameORama-Con(!). Baldezz and Vork team up to make money off of Bladezz’s minor celebrity as an internet meme. Zaboo is organizing Seat Savers to help fans get into the sessions they want to see. Tink indulges in cosplay to hide her identity, a fact that turns out to be hugely revealing about her identity. Meanwhile, Clara wanders around with a bad case of “baby-brain,” which results in a hilarious dalliance with corsets and a flying-gondola-blimp-thing. Codex, the narrating protagonist, struggles with an unrequited crush. That’s the light stuff.

The story-within-the-story is a bit heavier. It starts when Codex deeply insults the creator of The Game that brought The Guild together. Here’s a snip:

(These may not be exact quotes; I watched the show twice to catch the phrases, but mistakes are as unavoidable as they are unintentional!)

Codex is playing a sneak-peak trial of the newest version of The Game:

Codex:  “What are they, smokin’ crack crazy?”

Random Guy, Who Turns Out To Be Designer: “The creator oversaw the changes personally.”

Codex: (lots of vitriol about how stupid the changes are)

Random Guy: “I spent hundreds of hours on this, and you spend like two minutes and start to tear it apart.”

The conversation continues, ending with the designer pointing out to Codex that she has “trolled” him to his face. He invites her to create something better, and then leaves. In a later scene, the designer says that it’s hard to take the daily personal attacks. He appreciates some of Codex’s criticism, and incorporates her suggestions in a revision of the game – but even valid criticism can hurt when delivered with the delicacy of a blunderbuss. The creator is a human being, with feelings. Fame is not a shield from negativity.

Season Five goes on to show this is not only true for creators of content, but also for actors portraying content. A side-plot has Vork meeting an actress of whom he is a fan; in fact, he launched her fan club. Vork was crushed when, many years prior to their meeting, the actress chose to leave the show which made her famous. Her explanation is that her character was just a prop in gang-rape scenes, and she no longer wanted a job portraying the character. Vork reacts with near-religious zealotry. The divide between idolatry (Vork’s view) and “just a job” (actress’s view) is quite a deep. The skewed nature of their relationship illustrates the acquisitive tendencies of fans, which encroaches on a sort of ownership-at-distance of another person.

This sets the backdrop for an examination of the distorted perceptions of fans towards the famous. One of my favorite scenes in Season Five is a party full of famous people to which Bladezz wrangles an invitation. In addition to being chock full ‘o guest appearances (Eliza Dushku!), the party scene portrays the huge delta between what a fan perceives and the reality of life for a star. Bladezz critisizes the snack food, and a star replies that he got a great deal on them by buying them in bulk. Bladezz responds with incredulity, “Famous people don’t buy in bulk.” A series of short conversations with different stars results in the progressive dismantling of the myth of fame. Famous people aren’t always partying; they eat healthy food, like spirulina, which is “a party for your colon.” Their houses get leaky roofs, they suffer from eczema, they go to the dog park, and they turn in around nine. Famous people are… human beings! Stars face the same mundane problems that plague everyone. In addition, stars are expected to be a commodity for fans to consume. Once the veneer of misperception is removed, it becomes clear that fame is a nasty side-effect of doing or creating something unique.

When it comes to unique, think indie. This is a premise behind both the main plot in The Guild: Season Five, but also behind the creation of The Guild series itself, which started out as entirely indie produced. The theme of the relationship between creator and fan ties in with the examination of indie vs. corporate because the creators are always people – living, breathing, feeling people. The strain of the false idolatry and subsequent trolling has driven The Game’s designer to consider selling The Game to a big company. In one scene, a representative of the big company cajoles, “No matter what you do, you’re going to be dogged for it. Cash out, man.” The designer says he’ll sleep on it, and leaves the bar. The big company rep pockets money out of the tip jar, a not quite-sly commentary that is seen only in the background of a dimly-lit scene.

Throughout Season Five, there is a running discussion about how The Game, an indie-produced platform, will be ruined by acquisition by a big corporation. The assertion is that making things “glossy” for marketing kills the original spirit of the thing independently created. Codex pleads with the designer, “Look, it’s not easy to do what you do, but no one else can do it.” Isn’t that the essence of any creative endeavor? It has to start with the passion of an individual, or a group of tightly-aligned individuals. It can’t be created by a formula, and one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to either art or entertainment. Season Five could only have made its point stronger if it had a banner somewhere that read, “Yay, Indie!”

Best of all is that the serious issues are chased by a double-shot of laughter. One of my favorite phrases in Season Five is, “pre-owned frittata.” That’s what’s essentially lovely about The Guild: there’s plenty of fun to go along with the thought that it provokes.

My takeaway from Season Five? First, remember that creators are people. Give them your thoughts respectfully and with empathy. Second, remember that what we think is true may not be the reality, and try not to make assumptions about other people, even if they are famous. Third, support an indie!

Watch the Guild

 

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Gleefully Scheme of Malevolent Things

Early in May, I got an email from Michelle of Red Adept Press. She wanted to know if I’d be interested in participating in the blog tour for Edward Lorn’s horror novel, Dastardly Bastard. I opened the Reviewer Pack and read less than three paragraphs of the novel before I replied with an enthusiastic “Yes!”  My job was to read the book, write a review, and post it on the 28th of June – today! At this point, I can say three things with certainty:

1. Michelle  is awesome, organized, and friendly!

2. Dastardly Bastard should be on your To Read list. Now.

3. There is a giveaway with tons of cool stuff you can win! To enter, all you need to do is follow this link and scroll down to the Rafflecopter form. Like the Bastard’s Facebook page to unlock more options to earn raffle points!


Gleefully Scheme: My Review of Dastardly Bastard

Memory is emotional shrapnel. If you’re lucky, it causes only occasional discomfort. If you’re unlucky, a fragment breaks loose, tearing and damaging.

The characters in Edward Lorn’s novel, Dastardly Bastard, are haunted by memory.  Mark is a photojournalist, tormented by the deaths he has photographed. Donald is an author, who lost his beautiful girlfriend to an act of random violence.  Lyle has lost his father to illness. Jaleel has lost his job, and his mind. Justine has lost her grandmother, Nana Penance, but gained the love of her life, Trevor.

All of them are going to Waverly Chasm for a guided trail hike. They aren’t alone. Something in the chasm feeds off of the emotional energy generated by reliving bad memories.  Something in the chasm can create alternate realities, trapping people in their darkest memories. One by one, the thickening malevolence separates the hikers, eventually taking Trevor from Justine.

That was the bastard’s first mistake.

The second was letting Justine inside the darkness, because she isn’t going to loose the man she loves. Neither her own personal hell nor twisted visions of her Nana will keep her from Trevor.  Justine brings the fight to the darkness, and in the process learns the connection between the evil in the chasm, a boy’s soul trapped there, and her own abilities.

Dastardly Bastard does not want for either action or creepiness, and Lorn manages to include plenty of both with unique verve. If that’s all Dastardly Bastard did, it would be a good book. Lorn takes things farther, though, by writing characters so very human, so very fallible, that you can’t help but connect to the human drama.

Dastardly Bastard isn’t good: it’s very good.

In fact, my only complaint is a nitpick that boils down to personal preference. In one pivotal scene, a monstrous amalgam of hikers is used as a weapon against two of the characters. In comparison to the horrifying nature of being confronted with their own bad memories, the amalgam-monster feels less intense, and therefore less compelling. My preference would have been to nix the amalgam-monster, and yet Lorn puts the incident to such good use, I’m inclined to point out, again, my nitpick says more about how I like to be scared than about any true weakness in the book itself. In fact, there’s a laugh-out-loud mix up between “mouses” and “houses” that makes the amalgam-monster scene one of my favorite in the book.  Go on, get the book – you know you want to know what in the world I’m talking about here!

Memory is a dastardly bastard, but it is also our connection to how we became who we are. Lorn examines the damage memories do, but the point of Dastardly Bastard is that no matter how bad a memory is, there are other, good memories from which we can draw strength. If you enjoy your adventure stories spiked with darkness, then you don’t want to miss Edward Lorn’s Dastardly Bastard.

You’ll never see guided hiking trails the same again!

Bastard! Links!

Dastardly Blog Tour Page  –> Giveaway! Twitter follows unlock extra points!

Buy it on Amazon!

Buy it on Amazon, UK style!

Buy it on B&N!

Buy it on Smashwords!

Lorn! Contact!

Ruminating On:  (Lorn’s Blog) or on Twitter as @EdwardLorn!

Updates & To Dos

Friends, hi!

I’m writing a series! I’m code naming it Cerberus because it will have three parts. Three howling, screaming, ill-dispositioned, delightfully hellish sci-fi/horror hybrids! I did not know Cerberus was a huge, three-headed monster when I started writing; this caused a bit of nervous consternation when I realized that I needed to build a complete story out of what I thought was the rising-action of the initially conceived book. When the panic, er, consternation set in, I took a piece of green-tinted spiral notebook paper and a teal pen and just started scribbling a few premises about what I would need to tell a complete story. The entire exercise went better than expected. It not only calmed my frenzied consternation, but also gave me a very broad road map to follow during the final stages of writing. I’m not sticking to it exactly, which is partly why this lil’ growler is growing past the original goal of 80K. I’ve written to the end of the story, and am in the process of back-filling chapters, ideas, and characters. I cannot tell you how jazzed I am to be thiiiis close to finishing the first draft! Or, I could tell you, but it would have to be over dinner and with some really nice Sancerre wine. Let me know when; we’ll make a date.

Without further ado, here’s where I am with Fluffy (Book I):

81000 / 90000 words. 90% done!

It’s possible I’ll blow past 90K, too, but we’ll see. When I get the first draft done, I’m going to roll right into some limited writing for Fido (Book II), but will focus most of my time on revising Fluffy. My goal is to publish Fluffy by the end of 2012, Fido early 2013, and Chainsaw (Book III) mid-2013. This is an aggressive time-frame. How can it not be, given this is a pack of Hell dogs?

Oh, and I’m also going to get a psychological horror story ready for inclusion in anthology! There are some writers in this bunch that I adore! I’m very excited, and this item is both an update and part of my to-do list, as I have yet to edit the story.

See, wasn’t that a lovely transition between updates and to-dos?

When I’m not writing, tweeting, working, sleeping, walking my dogs, hanging out with Mr. Aniko, or dreaming of drinking Sancerre, I’m figuring out marketing for Stolen Climates. I have solicited for reviews, and have had two acceptances; when they are posted, I will link to them on my blog. I am also about to send out another batch of review requests, this time to a different target audience. In the first week of April, the World Literary Cafe will be running a new release campaign. I plan to host a tweet chat to coincide with the WLC event, and will post details of how you can participate. A glaring item on my to-do list is to get involved with the GoodReads Author Program. I was approved earlier this week as an official author (yay!), but I haven’t yet been over to take advantage of the awesome opportunity that presents. I keep reminding myself that I’m in this for the long-run, but sometimes I feel I can’t do enough to get word out fast enough. On my to-do list is to actually post three short reviews I wrote of books I’ve recently read. The reviews are written, just not shared with the world, which doesn’t do a lot of good for either the authors or those readers looking for their next hit of quality fiction. Literary fiends are the worst, too.

What else? I’m still hanging out with The Emissaries of Strange (#TESSpecFic) and enjoying their company. I started a new job. I sent Team Aniko packets to those who have expressed interest in pimpin’ a Stolen Climates poster. I survived the mega-huge thunderstorm that swept Central Texas last night; seriously, guys, I’ve sat through hurricanes that were less intense than that hours-long thunder’n’lightning fest. I’m writing every day. I’m reading less than I’d like, but sticking with my unspoken resolution to write a capsule review (at least) for everything I do read. The days are getting longer, it’s getting warmer and greener outside, and in general, I’m a happy girl.

Writer friends, I’m sending you strength and positive thoughts to make it past your own bouts of consternation.

XOXO,

aniko

PS The alternate spelling of Cerberus is Kerberos, which totally makes me think that particular authentication algorithm is way cooler than I gave it any credit for in the past.

PPS The name ‘Chainsaw’  is deliberate homage to a real-life name of a real-life Pomeranian! Or I think it’s a Pomeranian. She’s small and fluffy… and named Chainsaw!

 

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Review: The Corridors of the Dead, by Jonathan D. Allen

I first met Jonathan D. Allen when he was interviewed by Paul Dail. I was intrigued by the premise for The Corridors of the Dead, but really taken in by Jonathan’s voice in the interview. When I discovered Jonathan’s blog is named ‘Shaggin the Muse,’ I knew I wanted to be friends. It turns out that not only is Jonathan a talented writer, but he is also highly approachable. Chat him up on Twitter (@crimnos)  – you’ll see, he’s one cool cat.

And now, my review… 

The Corridors of the Dead, a dark fiction novel by Jonathan D. Allen, is told from Matty’s point of view. Matty works the nightshift at a Circle K convenience store. With her misanthropic attitude and need for ‘time to escape people and work on [her] art,’ the graveyard shift is as perfect a fit as she was likely to find. In the dead of night Matty feels like an ‘inter-dimensional traveler’ and allows the weirdness of the time to give her glimpses into surreal worlds conjured by the media of her visual art. There is nothing random about Allen’s choice of a visual artist as protagonist; it turns out Matty has the ability to breach the illusion of reality in more ways than just through her drawings. Indeed, there is nothing random about the entire, wonderfully crafted introduction. Matty’s voice is authentic and brash. She is a cussing, independent, real person recounting events. Allen deftly leverages Matty’s authenticity to pull off early foreshadowing that is subtle enough not to detract from the narrative flow, but detailed enough to give a jolt of recognition on a second read.

The Corridors of the Dead is a feast for the omnivorous reader. Those who love the traveling-adventuring sections of King’s Dark Tower series will enjoy Allen’s take on the theme of group pilgrimage as way to individual knowledge of self. Allen excels at depicting the word play, intrigue, and tension generated by throwing together a band of travelers, each with their own motivations and secrets. Not that this journey is all talk! There are plenty of action scenes. Fights between cosmic factions take place in a variety of settings, including a fast-paced struggle on a train that exists in a world outside of time. It is in this space outside of time, surrounded by ancient decaying bodies, that Matty learns that her actions might somehow be responsible for a cataclysmic massacre.  This knowledge places Matty at the epicenter of an intractable moral dilemma and allows Allen to raise serious questions, especially around the idea of sacrificing one to save the many.

Matty’s voice carries the work, even through a section near the middle of the novel where the narrative is slower paced than the rocketing start and the mind-boggling revelations of the latter third. Throughout the book, Allen provides a largess of world building and historic back story. The Corridors of the Dead is part of a series, and any suspected excesses in the artificial scope of just one book need to be evaluated in the context of the overall arc of the series as a whole. I trust Allen to use this world and its history to give greater resonance to events in the subsequent installments. In fact, if his incredible use of foreshadowing in the introduction of The Corridors of the Dead is any indication, Allen’s probably already set us up to be wonderfully satisfied when we see how all of the pieces and parts eventually play out.

Allen makes surreal settings and situations feel believable. Whether journeying into alternate worlds or facing a too-close-to home assailant, the authenticity never falters. One of my favorite scenes involves a shotgun toting ‘Eureka Tweeka, a meth head of the lowest class.’  The Tweeka proceeds to rob the store then forces Matty into the trunk of her car with the intent of killing her. Matty’s description of  being inside the trunk? That it ‘smelled like a droid died in there.’  That is just one delightful example from a book replete with surprising metaphors that not only shock or amuse, but also work.

The Corridors of the Dead is a book you’ll want on your 2012 reading list. It combines an end-of-the-world theme with engaging dialog, memorable characters, and trans-dimensional adventure. Best of all, Matty will be back in the continuation of the series!

Go on an inter-dimensional adventure! Purchase THE CORRIDORS OF THE DEAD on Amazon or Barnes and Noble

 

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Review: The Well, by Peter Labrow

The Well was my introduction to indie published horror and assuaged any fears I had that excellent horror could be independently produced. I’ve since discovered that in addition to authoring an amazing novel,  Peter Labrow is friendly, approachable – and patient! It was weeks, if not a month or more ago, that I first mentioned to him my intent to write a review. Peter, please consider this my Winter Solstice gift to you! I’d like to remind everyone that it is possible to give e-books as gifts via Amazon!

Note: There are some mild spoilers scattered throughout.

On the outskirts of Bankside, the old Whitaker estate stands in ruins. The well has been capped with a metal grating, but the grating is in nearly as much disrepair as the “overgrown, crumbling” wall surrounding the estate. Not that it matters, since it is the legends that keep people away, not the wall. Although the place gives Becca the creeps, she goes there to be “properly alone” with Matt, who is both her stepbrother and her boyfriend. A flirtatious kiss on the well plunges the two of them into the dank water.

The Well, by Peter Labrow, could have been entirely focused on Becca’s experience of being injured and trapped in an abandoned well. The descriptions of her hunger, the lurid detail of how she manages her bodily functions, the horror of sitting with a corpse, and the torment of a vengeful spirit provides more than enough material for a satisfying ‘hit’ of dark fiction. Had Labrow chosen to keep his focus narrow, The Well would have been very, very good. Instead, Labrow seamlessly combines a cornucopia of horror that takes a broader, more frightening look at the evils of our world. The Well isn’t very, very good: it’s better than that. Labrow’s novel is a close call with a dark fiction overdose. The Well is a horror aficionado’s wicked good time.

Claustrophobia, pedophilia, supernatural malevolence, and relationships strained by extraordinary circumstances: The Well has uses all of these themes to examine the effect lies have on people. Becca and Matt would not have been in their predicament if Becca had not lied to her mother and her friend Hannah about her whereabouts. It’s unlikely they would have been together at the well if Matt had not lied about being a virgin, especially if Becca knew “the one girl he’d had sex with… didn’t exactly qualify as willing.” The supernatural cycle of the novel also is based in lies. Ages ago, when the Whitaker estate was still occupied, the Bankside apothecary’s wife lied to her husband as to the nature of how she knew the Whitaker witch was murdering children. In the modern day, the descendant of the apothecary’s wife lies to her young daughter when a vivid dream presages the reoccurrence of the Whitaker curse upon their lineage.

Granted, how is a mother supposed to tell her eight-year old daughter that it is their place to allow the sacrifice of an innocent? It is also true that if the apothecary’s wife hadn’t lied, she would have been branded a witch and slaughtered along with the Whitakers. Few condone date rape, and many wouldn’t condone premarital sex with stepsiblings, but almost everyone can understand how two hormonal sixteen year olds would lie to get a chance to make out. Therein lies a large part of the horror you feel upon reading The Well:  you understand the reasoning behind the lies, you get it. Then Labrow shows you the nasty consequences of the darkness unleashed by ‘understandable’ lies.

The characters in The Well are mostly well-crafted.  If you were to meet one of them in the grocery store, he or she would be indistinguishable from the ‘real’ shoppers.  When Labrow characters lie, love, or feel the entire spectrum of fear, they do it convincingly – except for one character. That character is Matt’s father, Jim.  Jim is presented as  “decent” albeit “slightly dull,” the type of man who, even “under pressure…[is] able to think straight.” When driving to see if their kids are in danger, Jim “drove as quickly as he could but – being Jim – not irresponsibly.” Instead of just showing us Jim being Jim, the narrative resorts to telling us facts about Jim. The scenes with Jim break the flow of the story, making me conscious of the fact that I am, after all, reading. This is a minor quibble; the other characters, especially the pedophile crossing-guard, are almost uncomfortably human.

What interests me about Jim is that he seems to be the only male character in The Well who is not a womanizing bully, cheater, drunk, or aspiring rapist. Instead, Jim is the poster-boy for calm and supportive love; he makes a conscious effort to touch his wife and offer her comfort despite his own fears. Although this review is not the place for an in depth analysis of any one facet of the novel, I think a book club would find a veritable treasure trove of discussion solely around the topic of gender and sexuality presented in The Well.

If The Well is about the consequences of lying, it is in equal measure a book about the dynamics of relationships.  Labrow presents several types of relationships, all at varying stages of intimacy, and each with their own set of problems. However, he doesn’t limit the narrative to examining only personal relationships. As with the choice to expand the work beyond just the events that take place within the well, Labrow expands the type of relationships he examines beyond everyday romance and friendship.  Labrow orchestrates situations to examine a variety of interactions including  the relationship of the accursed to the innocent; the relationship of a trusting community to a predatory school employee; and the relationship of police to possible suspects. The question of individual responsibility to a group or community is an understated yet dynamic theme in the novel. What is truly notable is that at no point does the weightiness of the questions posed drag down the story or interrupt the immediacy of the characters’ panic and fear.

The Well is a multifaceted, thematically rich horror novel you don’t want to miss!

After the holidays, you’ll want to curl up with a good book.  Why not make it THE WELL?  Purchase THE WELL from Amazon as an e-book or paperback!

 

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