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Monday, February 6, 2017

The Deep (A Book That Scares You)

Pro: Perfect for horror fans
Con: I can't say I'm a horror fan.

The Bottom Line: Dear God, WHY DID I READ THIS BOOK??

First and foremost: Fuck this book.

Normally I might say sorry about the language, but seriously.

Fuck. This. Book.

Now, I don't mean that as an insult to the author, Nick Cutter, at all. The writing is excellent. The characters are solid and well-crafted. The story is interesting and compelling. The atmosphere – the fear – is top notch. But it's all those things put together in just the right way to make this a true blue horror book. Normally I don't do horror. But I like to step outside of my comfort zone from time to time and read something different, especially if it sounds interesting. And the description of this book certainly sounded interesting. A disease that makes everyone forget everything until they simply forget how to live? A sudden miraculous cure found on the bottom of the ocean? Going from one topside, end of the world disease to 8 miles under the ocean only to discover the real horror is down there? Sure. Why not? What could be down there? Sea monster of some sort? The miracle cure turns deadly? People simply going nuts from being down there too long? The possibilities were endless.

Mr. Cutter picked out all the things I didn't see coming. Or maybe just did all the things my "I-want-happy-endings" brain doesn't like to think about. Plucked all those nasty ideas out and slapped them on the page for me so they're out there, clear as daylight, leaving me unable to avoid them. Creepy grasping clawed hands in the dark coming out of trunks with clowns on them. Insanity inching its way into people's brains with insidious fingers, all the while telling them it's okay. Animal experimentation gone wrong. Perversions of natural creatures. I mean, that book is sitting over on my bed right now. I want to move it, but I don't really want to touch it again. It's like I've got the Necronomicon over there and touching it is the last thing I want to do.

Oh, and he totally kills the dog. I'm going to lay that out there for you right now. The dog dies, and it's awful in every way possible.

The main character, Lucas, had me shouting at him by page 40. Yeah, it doesn't take long for you, gentle reader, to realize that things are seriously, horribly wrong already and going down 8 miles under the ocean is a monumentally bad idea. I should think that a weird, blood-scrawled message from a dead man should be enough NOPE for anybody, but according to Lucas he doesn't have anything left to lose and besides, humanity is dying out so might as well. Maybe I'm just selfish. After they climb into the mini-sub to drop down the Mariana Trench, you know it's too late. It takes some time for the other shoe to drop, but when it does, it does so hard and with a spiked heel.

There's a lot of back and forth in this book as Lucas's awful childhood memories surge up, often unbidden. I felt bad for the poor guy. He's had a lot of bad things happen to him, and he really doesn't deserve any of the things he gets in this book. None of the people involved do. And the frustrating thing for me is that I'm a creature of duality – I believe in opposites. Light/dark, good/bad, that sort of thing. But there's nothing but darkness in this book. There is no happy ending, or even an ending that can be considered remotely decent. Frankly, I feel pretty certain that it's just the end of the world happening.

I will give credit that as I read, the things involved invoked a lot of other familiar horrors I've come across. The first description of the miracle cure – dubbed ambrosia – reminded me of the Blob or even the Thing. There is a very Thing-like moment with the dog. Beckoning hands made me think of Pennywise in the drain. The hive made me think of Michael Crichton's Prey (an excellent although also creepy book, but at least the main character can and does fight back). And as the end revealed itself, I got a lot of Lovecraftian vibes and even a bit of Hellraiser. I kept thinking of how, the way horror videogames are these days in which you run scared, hide, and remain weaponless the entire time, this book would make for a solid horror game. Although I'm not sure how people would respond to the end. Or the dog.

If you're into horror, this is top notch. The choicest bits. There is some gore, but not a lot, and it appears when and where it needs to. The fear is in everything else. What's around the bend. What will manifest next. The inability to fight back as you run with Lucas through metal tubes and squeeze through even smaller ones. You wonder if he's even a reliable narrator; and if that's his fault or something else's.

So go, enjoy the terror if you please. But as for me, I'm sorry Mr. Cutter, but I'm never going to read any of your books again.

Consider that a compliment.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

And the Trees Crept In (A Book That Made You Cry)

Pro: Perfectly creepy and with a surprising, satisfying ending
Con: Nope.

The Bottom Line: I got more horror than I expected, but I also got an ending I never considered and it all worked together perfectly.

Dawn Kurtagich's book is the sort that you end up reading by accident. Kind of. I'd seen the cover dozens of times at work, and finally one day curiosity won me over and I thought, "What is this book about?" I knew it was supposed to be creepy, but what else? So I read the summary – cursed house, crazy aunt, terrible woods, odd boy, and tall eyeless man who plays with the little sister and who no one else can see. Well that's uncomfortable. Horror isn't exactly my top choice, but I cracked the book open anyway and scanned a few pages in the middle.

And then a few more.

Aaaaand then a few more.

And then I realized it was too late. The book had sunk its hooks into me and dragged me in. Time to read.

Oh. My Goodness.

Things start out normally enough but it was astonishing just how fast everything went downhill. I was on page 73 when someone asked me what the book was like and with wide eyes I said, "It's good, but I really don't know what's going to happen with all the rest of this to go because I've barely started and the trees are already moving toward the house." It didn't take long for me to start racking my brain for answers as to what the hell was happening in and around this house. Why the hell didn't Silla ever ask for more information when it came to where Gowan lived? How the hell hasn't Silla starved to death by now? And every now and again this one will pop back up – who the hell is that old man at the beginning of the book? Questions upon questions which only get answered with a resounding, "OOOH," at the end of the book.

You also come to realize that Silla is not a reliable narrator. But then again, neither is Aunt Cath. Can you trust anyone in this book at all? You think maybe, just maybe, you've figured out a little something, but then you remember the Creeper Man and it all just falls apart. Again, you won't know everything until the end, and having zero clue is something I appreciate in a book these days. And there's so much batshit crazy stuff happening, I almost started to wonder if this would be a good sampling for what Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves might be like.

This book was good. Very good. And even though the end did in fact – wait for it – actually make me cry at the end in a mixture of both sadness and gladness, you need to be able to wade through heaps and heaps of horror in order to get there. And I'm not talking gore – that's not what horror is. Not in its entirety, anyway. This is weird, unsettling, and often psychological stuff. This is dark houses with gaping holes full of roots horror. Rotting sunken mud in the woods horror. Endless creaking and giggling and screaming in the dark when no one is there horror.

Let me tell, you – it is quite the ride. But the end is like stepping out into the sunshine with clear eyes as you finally get to discover everything that's happened. While there is one mystery yet to be solved, it is not Silla's, and that's okay.

The funny thing is that I never expected that this book would make me cry, or that I would be able to find a book for the reading challenge that would hit that mark, but I guess one should always expect the unexpected, even if we can't, really.


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