I am not a big horror fan. Movie-wise anyways. I didn’t grow up watching Texas Chainsaw or Saw, except when I was forced to at sleepovers and didn’t want to seem like a chicken. Even then, I was a master at hiding behind my hands. It’s not that I don’t like to be scared, I just don’t like being jolted. Thankfully, horror literature has all the creepy crawly fun of the genre without making you leap out of your skin. Moving on from the likes of Tony Burgess and Joe Hill, I knew I needed to read The Troop by Nick Cutter, a Simon and Schuster release from a literary Canlit novelist who has adopted a pseudonym for this truly revolting story of nature versus science.
5 teenaged Boy Scouts and their Scoutmaster go to an small uninhabited island off the coast of PEI for a weekend camping trip, something they’ve been doing for years. But the evening they arrive, a mysterious and sickly man appears on the island as well…. Straight away, we know that this is a classic case of the wrong-place-wrong-time scenario where isolation and human psychology are met with something very unnatural, causing a desperate fight for survival.
Vague much? I know, I know. But I don’t want to give too much away since, as usual, I didn’t know anything about the story before I started reading it and it made for a thrilling and thoroughly chilling experience. That is the beauty of a “story of terror”, because terror, as a rule, lies in the unknown. Do yourself a favour and leave the details unspoiled. What I will say though is that for a novel that initially focuses itself on hunger, it totally destroyed my appetite. Like, beat-up-and-shredded-to-pieces-RUINED for a good 24 hours. The Troop is not to be read before dinnertime, as Steven Beattie rightfully warned me. It’s also not for the squeamish. Cutter is graphic in every sense of the word: detailed, shocking, and very effective. You can really chew on his descriptions (not that you would want to based on the subject matter). Though his characters may have started out like the quintessential Boy Scout stereotypes (the nerd, the jock, the weirdo, the mental case) they quickly become rounded by stories from their pasts and the individual reactions to their awful situation. This is exactly the kind of writer that you want when you’re embarking on a creepy, disgusting journey. Someone who not only presents his story seamlessly, but is also able to describe every little off-putting inch of his world with excitable ease. Reading The Troop, you are truly strapped in for the ride. With a sense of foreboding obvious within a few short pages, the story never slows down and neither will you.
I’ve had Tony Burgess on my to-read list for months. Unfortunately, things keep getting in the way, which has kind of upped the suspense in reading horror stories by someone who seems synonymous with the term “maniac” (based on the reviews I’ve read so far). I’ve been doing some zombie recon for a super secret pet project (NO, I am not trying to grow synthetic zombie replicas to sell on kijiji during The Walking Dead off season…but CLOSE! Nevermind, I’ve already said too much…) and reading Burgess was definitely an eye opening, near retching experience. And I say that with praise.
So I actually read two Burgess novels this week because after I finished the first one, I didn’t really know how to move on with my life, let alone a new book, so I figured I might as well keep walking down this road to creep town.
Tony Burgess’s novel Pontypool Changes Everything (ECW Press, 1998) takes place in the small town of Pontypool Ontario, about 30 minutes from where I live. One time, I saw a wonderfully charming live performance about the settlement heritage of Pontypool put on by 4th Line Theatre. Burgess’s novel is the complete antithesis of that. Exploring a deadly virus that is contracted through language, the story follows several characters in the wake of this epidemic that begins spreading across Ontario, first as a version of aphasia and culminating in bloody, neck-breaking cannibals. This original and brilliant premise is wrapped in a fragmented, surreal, violent, and hazy narrative that takes some commitment as a reader. There is also film version, loosely based on the novel.
The N-Body Problem is Burgess’s latest (released in October from Chizine) and it might be the most shockingly twisted novel I’ve ever read. Ever. A story that starts off in a world where the bodies of the undead are orbiting the Earth, turns into something so insane and grotesque, I’m actually awestruck. Tony Burgess definitely isn’t for everybody, but this is post-apocalyptic horror literature (and I mean literature because it is severely well-written) that stretches the genre to the extreme. A particularly unique and wild take on a zombie story, I read The n-Body Problem in one sitting, and was immobilized for a good 30+ minutes afterwards. If you want to blow your reader expectation out of the water (and have a stomach for the sick and graphic) give this one a shot, it’s on a whole other warped little planet.
Apparently I’m on a short story kick lately, and that is definitely not a bad thing… with short fiction collections, you can sneak in a story or two in the morning, like Steph @ Bella’s Bookshelves, or on your lunch break if you’re me. It’s a perfect way to add a bit of lit to your day, especially if it’s canlit. Speaking of sneaking, Eat Your Heart Out, a collection of stories from newcomer Katie Boland is definitely a sneaky bunch. Coming to you from West coast publisher Brindle and Glass, it’s got a lot of love, a little death, some confused longing and a serious splash of muddled emotions that make up the brunt of these tales. I admired how Boland uses emotional situations in non-emotional ways. Instead of letting the sap – often reserved for love stories or lonely hearts clubs – run out all over the place, she writes almost matter-of-factly, and leaves a lot of the “feeling” up to the reader. These are some seriously lonely characters: full of regret, cowardice, and stubborn attitudes. You only get a glimpse into their lives but its enough so that you’re left wondering what might happen at the end of these personal shit-storms, brewing like hurricanes in mason jars.
I wouldn’t expect any less in the dialogue department from a screenwriter/actress, and so I thought it was expertly done. Other reviews have cited some shortcomings in Boland’s prose, but I didn’t find any of it hindering to the overall effect of her stories. I thought they were mesmerizing.
Stories to look out for are Mama, Monster and The Falling Action. Short and bittersweet, Eat Your Heart Out is a collection that turns the red, meaty inside out and that’s definitely something worth reading.