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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Odds’n’Ends

Comment spam is really something! I have received spambot messages extolling my insight, articulation, and brilliance. Then they try to sell me the GUCCI LOUIS VUITTON ELECTRIC CIGARETTE ANTIDEPRESSANTS and I realize spambots talk like that to all the blogging girls. Despite feeling a bit cheapened by the experience, I still find some linguistic gems hidden in the broken, discordant and illogical messages.  Here are a couple of examples:

“… mimics the act of tobacco smoking from building a inhaling air supporting this real emotion.” No way!?  Not only do these e-cigs have “novelty, seasonings, and maybe overstated claims regarding safeness,” they build an inhaling air supporting real emotion!

Another spambot tells me that “Both girls and boys really feel the impression of just a moment’s pleasure, for the remainder of their lives.” This could have been the dark conclusion to an ad for condoms, or the happy conclusion to a dating site ad, but I think they were trying to peddle antidepressants. I don’t know about you, but a complete lack of clarity in any advertisement makes me want to approve their link as a comment on my blog & go to their site &  friend them on Facebook & follow them on Twitter me & invite them over for dinner!

Penrose tiling via Wikipedia

When not engaged with Philosophy of Mind, Penrose does math things.

When I’m not partaking of spammy goodness, I’m reading The Emperor’s New Mind by Roger Penrose, physicist.  Penrose takes a stance against proponents of strong artificial intelligence (AI) circa 1989. To oversimplify, strong AI holds that the act of performing an algorithm is synonymous with understanding. If a sufficiently complex algorithm could be created , and if there were computational machinery that could carry out the algorithm, strong AI would hold that the machine would experience an understanding indistinguishable from the understanding of a human mind carrying out the same algorithm. Penrose found this viewpoint to be absurd as well as dangerous, at least in the sense that it would distract research away from areas that might reveal something closer to the essential truth of mind. I’m only into the book about 40 very slowly read and very densely intellectual pages, but already I’m hooked. That’s a good thing, considering this is research for my next novel. I think that after finishing The Emperor’s New Mind, I’ll skip ahead a couple of decades in philosophical inquiry and read everything I can by Nick Bostrom and other members of the Future of Humanity Institute. Ray Kurtzweil, some robotics, a bit of William Gibson and I’ll be as ready as I can be to write. This is going to be fun!

I am also reading The Imaginings by Paul D. Dail. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but there are scenes that take place in the underground tunnels of a partially constructed, possibly cursed mansion  that combine psychological anxiety and good, old-fashioned scary. I haven’t joined GoodReads yet (shame on me, I know, but Facebook just about broke my spirit and made me wish I could write novels for a different species), but I plan to join and make a review of The Imaginings one of my two first reviews of indie horror. The other book I am going to review? The Well, by Peter Labrow. He manages to combine so many different types of scary without losing sight of the humanity of his characters.  I read (half of) another indie horror book by a big-name in the biz and that one didn’t come close to matching the complexity or creepiness of either The Imaginings or The Well. Yet another reminder that big sales don’t mean big time enjoyment for this humble reader.

I need to start updating my manuscript with the edits I got back from my efficient, friendly, and very professional copy editor. Why am I dragging my feet, ya’ll?

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

– William Gibson, opening line of Neuromancer.

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