Title: The Fear
Author: Spencer Hamilton
Release Date: August 11, 2020
Genre: Psychological horror, post-apocalyptic
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Jacqueline (“Jack”) and Ashley move to Austin in order to start a new life together, away from their toxic families. But after Jack is attacked by a homophobe their first night in the city, she begins to see him everywhere, and Ashley is unable to tell if her wife's sightings of him are real or psychosomatic. Just as Jack is able to cope again, the coronavirus shutdown happens—and Ashley begins to see the attacker, too.
Title: The Only Good Indians
Author: Stephen Graham Jones
Release Date: July 14, 2020
Genres: Horror, Native American, POC, Diverse, Supernatural
Star Rating: 5/5
Disclosures: I bought this book of my own accord.
How many sides are there to the truth, really?
As an estranged group of Native friends find themselves alone in sanity-rending situations, that question arises again and again. In The Only Good Indians, everyone struggles to get a look at the objective truth for long; the task is made nearly impossible by the dubious veracity of stories and perception from the past, whites, and the people around them. It’s a clever subversion of the Rashomon style of storytelling, which normally has multiple characters describing one point in time: the cast of characters have sections from their point of view, as the inciting factor of this story moves itself steadily forward, showing just enough of itself to create confusion and a feeling of impending doom. Each protagonist is truthful about their past deeds and their beliefs, though they’re obviously biased—it’s the world and others around them that the reader can’t trust.
The less you know about this book going in, the better. Jones captures the frenetic thought patterns and twisting logic of its characters with grace and quietly building dread, which can only be cheapened by knowing too much. However, it’s never so esoteric or confusing to turn a reader off; for every little bit of evidence that doesn’t add up, there’s a dozen insights to be drawn from the interactions between its characters, the worldly anxieties that plague them even when they’re in mortal danger, and the way each one has learned to cope with the thousand little cuts that come with growing up on a reservation.
In terms of genre, there’s a subtype of horror for anyone to like in this: The quiet, creeping kind when things aren’t just right. The heart-wrenching, emotional class when something is never able to be undone. The gaslighting, trembling-hand type of horror when you can’t trust your own senses anymore. The existential dread of everything in your world falling apart, while the days still go by as usual for everyone else. And, lastly, the sort that makes you feel glad that you’re safe, reading in your cozy spot, with all of your skin and bones just where they’re supposed to be.
I rarely would describe a book as perfect, but I really can’t think of anything that could improve upon this title. I would recommend this to anyone who loves horror, but especially anyone who cares about diverse voices in literature, the connections between fellow humans, and a perfect mix of hope and tragedy.
The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter
Beloved, Toni Morrison
Now You’re One of Us, Asa Nonami
Content warnings: gore, violence, racism, xenophobia, drug addiction.
Author: Joshua Marsella
Release Date: May 11, 2020
Genres: Supernatural horror
Star Rating: 4/5 stars
Disclosures: I bought and read this book through my Kindle Unlimited subscription.
I picked this up after seeing some buzz about it on Twitter—I’m always excited to support and find new horror writers, especially indie authors. I’ve been disappointed doing so several times, especially when newer authors write books with prominent female characters, but found that Marsella, in his first published work, was able to write flawed, but developed, believable, and human main characters.
Scratches follows an isolated mother and son, Janet and Connor, who move into her delapidated, inherited childhood home out of financial need. They have a dynamic of yearning to connect with each other but pulling away out of pain, which escalates with time in the house--especially after Connor begins to sleep in the foreboding basement, which his mother refuses to enter.
The novella does a fantastic job of examining two people who need each other, but fail to communicate as they suffer from intergenerational trauma. The tension between the two builds along with their internal anxiety and guilt. While some books subject their female characters to horrific happenings out of moralistic punishment or a grab at sympathy, this isn’t the case at all with Scratches. Janet comes across as someone that all of us have probably known, and felt for, at least once in our lives—particularly for those who grew up in poverty or a dysfunctional family. She originally closes herself off so much that Connor feels isolated and burdensome, much like she did as a child; however, the narration slowly begins bring all of her pain, shame, and anger out into the open with the progression of the plot.
Likewise, Connor is acutely aware of the invisible eggshells that coat the floor of their ramshackle dwelling. Despite the poor conditions of the house’s basement, he moves his bedroom downstairs to avoid further stressing and annoying his mother, which provides the catalyst for both the internal and external changes in both of their lives. Connor behaves very believably like a kid in his circumstances, and there’s an artful balance drawn between a kid who’s had to grow up too quickly and a child who’s emotionally unprepared for healing the family’s wounds.
The few things that distracted me from the story were some stylistic choices and a few grammatical errors. The plot moves quickly, but in the beginning of the book, the length of the chapters is much shorter than later on, which feels a bit choppy. The dialogue feels less authentic than the internal descriptions of the characters, especially the comic book shop clerk—to be fair, though, dialogue can have a steep learning curve, and this is his first novel. I would be excited to read a second work from Marsella, and think that just a little copy-editing and perhaps reading his dialogue out loud could catapult him into a force in the world of indie horror.
Heart-Shaped Box, Joe Hill
Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado
Several stories in Ghostly, Audrey Niffenegger
Content warnings: sexual assault, wartime violence, child abuse, alcohol abuse.
Reviews of horror, nonfiction, and other genres from a life-long lover of books.