Friday, November 30, 2012

Silent Voices by Gary McMahon

Returning to the realm previously envisioned in The Concrete Grove, UK author Gary McMahon creates, via Silent Voices, the second part of a now-trilogy. Although there are off-shoots of the previous tale here, this is a different kind of beast altogether. Whereas the first invited us into the bleak atmosphere of The Grove itself (like a hummingbird’s view of it), Silent Voices is more a character study of three individuals (Simon, Marty, and Brendan) who battled its demons as children and - years later and now grown into adulthood – return to the Grove for a final revelation, closure, or both.

The Good:

Steeping back into Gary’s narration is akin to a homecoming. The syntax – while a little less cerebral this time around – moves around the page like dark poetry. There is also an every-man eloquence to the mood: these are hard character's chiseled from austere upbringings: Simon Ridley is a successful entrepreneur, the only one to escape the Grove, but a man unhinged all the same. His friend Brendan suffers the same insecurities we all reach upon seceding into adulthood: keeping up a pretense of happiness when the dream machine of our youth has an ‘out of order’ sign attached. And Marty has all the hallmarks of what a neglected childhood can sometimes usher in: masochism and brutality to hide what lurks beneath. When the three reconcile to talk about a weekend in the Needle twenty years previous they cannot recall, the resultant outcome is a commanding story of sin and salvation.   

The Drawbacks: 

The second outing of a trilogy is never an easy one; the story usually a bridge to a final farewell that can be wobbly at the best of times. Somewhat formulaic, Gary has chosen the trope: best friends who battled an evil in childhood are summoned as adults to confront the monster again. For me, this is somewhat well-worn, and probably peaked during the eighties. There is a lot of story here where simply nothing happens, where plot-devices are pushed aside to make way for a character to brood inwardly and stare out of windows in drab reflection. The climax, when it comes, strives for the cinematic ... but with only one small flashback scene it can sometimes be hard to grasp the nostalgia and (horror movie) feel our author is trying to illicit.

Positives (and drawbacks) aside, this is still an accomplished work of dark fiction. It may not be McMahon firing on every cylinder, but even the author’s bridgework is head and shoulders above many others working in the same arena. The foundations of story have been set; the cement of the project has dried. The only thing left to do now is take one final journey back into the Concrete Grove ... and see what lies beyond it.  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Red Town Lost by John Shupeck Jr.

Necro Publications continues its Fresh Flesh experiment with a debut novel from John Shupeck Jr. Here the author has woven four very different stories containing interlocking characters and situations. Like converging train lines ultimately intercepting at the same terminal, each story has the same analogous outcome. 

We begin in nowhere, Pennsylvania - and Dan Suppers is looking for civilization after breaking down in his car. Soon he stumbles upon the still-smoking and charred aftermath of a large fire, the remnants of an entire small town’s populace. With no survivors to tell the tale, Dan is left to piece together the mystery of Kecksgille’s final moments ... and how an entire municipality ended in a baptism of blood.


Slow out of the gate, Incipientium chronicles a young Mike Rearick and his merry band of friends as they make their way to the local Kecksgille Baptist Church and a night of revelry. But the resultant climax here is more like a reverse-coin Children of the Corn that will see Kecksgille’s adults – guided by the hand of a local priest - rise up against the children in a well-choreographed genocide.


As implied by the title, mental illness takes centre stage in this first person narration. Composed in diary form, we are slowly introduced into the ailing world of young Carl Truitt and the doctors tasked with helping him. Our narrator’s voice is sly, crass, and contains just enough adolescent humour to please any underdog.

River Road:

Chronicles the story of Zachary Bennett who takes the path less traveled in an effort to escape an impoverished existence and parents battling addiction. A mere child when he begins his journey, Zachary Bennett comes to age almost overnight after being pitted against the ‘medicine man’ of his nightmares. A final showdown in heart of Kecksgille rounds off a story rooted in subtext.

Spider Arms:

Another tale of the underdog, Spider Arms centers on Kevin Ritchie, Kecksgille’s neighborhood teenage punching bag for Jocks everywhere. Cursed with a subtle malady that redefines lanky, Kevin decides – on one fateful day – to fight back. But not in the manner his adversaries expect. Ultimately a routine narrative of revenge.

There are a few other intervals here in Red Town Lost – some clever, others mystifying – while the syntax (at times) can be awkward and comes pre-packaged with run-off sentences and juvenile metaphysics. However, as a working whole there is a quality of strangeness that grows as the story progresses. If some of the plot devices are a little too deus ex machina for some readers, I suspect more light can be shed on them in John’s illuminating and candid afterward.

Red Town Lost is available now from Necro Publications.