Just two quickie reviews. I used to do long ones, but the short form seems to be more appealing, and more in line with the ‘wham-bam-thank-you-man’ tastes of blog readers.
The Caretaker of Lorne Field, by Dave Zeltserman - This short book has been viewed as Horror’s second coming by some. The reviews on amazon and on the Horror Drive-In were so effusive that I thought I had another The Passage on my hands, which meant I might be brutally disappointed. Also, the cost of the Ebook was almost nineteen bucks. But lately I’ve seen some collectible crud on sale for way more than that, so I thought I’d take the plunge.
It’s a quick read; I finished it in a day and half with what little reading time I have. It’s the story of a man who is the hereditary caretaker of the eponymous Lorne Field. The field is home to strange creatures called the Aukowies - plant-like monsters that are a melange of the Triffids, Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors, and the legendary Mandrake plant. If left alive, an Aukowie will mature in eight days, pull itself from the ground, and destroy all life on earth. You don’t see much of the Aukowies; the book hints that mature they are nine feet high, move at about two hundred miles an hour, and are armed with what appears spinning thorns as powerful as industrial wood-chippers.
The caretaker, Jack Durkin, is a man who gave up a pro ball career, happiness, and success, because a contract signed three hundred years ago makes him obligated to follow in his father’s footsteps, and his sons to follow in his. He has to pull the ‘weeds’ by hand from the field, for twelve hours a day, until winter comes. He gets free use of an old, dank house and eight thousand bucks a year.
Here’s where the conflict starts: it’s present day, and all the respectful townsfolk who used to hold the selfless caretaker in high esteem, who used to give him and his family free food, are almost all deceased. The age of superstition has passed. Jack’s sons hate him and are embarrassed by him; his wife (whom admittedly Jack has used as a breeding sow to bear his sons and future caretakers) hates him with an almost homicidal passion, and the younger townsfolk think the Caretaker job is a ancient scam and that Jack and his descendants may have been having them on.
This is a short book, but it works. The Aukowies, though barely described, are a constant and lurking presence. Wisely, the author doesn’t give an explanation, or an origin, and so the book takes on a mythic aspect. As the book progresses, the questions of reality, mental illness, and faith arise, and soon even the main character begins to question himself as much or more than the other characters.
Top marks for this book, as long as you’re not expecting anything epic. It’s short, but it does everything a classic story should.
The Last Werewolf, by Glen Duncan - This is a tough review.
Glen Duncan is a great writer, and uses his English classicism, his education, and his vast, incisive vocabulary to craft his brilliant verbiage. He’s clearly a fan of Nabokov, and although he pokes fun at Martin Amis in this books (‘Amis’s mouldering novelties’), he owes much of his style and many of his characters to Amis’s classic book Money. He’s technically a better writer than any horror writer ever. But is he a better horror writer?
In the back pages of my cheapo edition of Moby Dick, there is a collection of essays. One is by DH Lawrence, and it’s a treat to read one genius as he dissects another. He pokes fun at Melvilles plodding pendantry, his endless lectures on history and biology, but admits that beneath all of Melville’s fluff beats the heart of a true mystic.
So… I hate to do this. Glen Duncan is what this genre needs: Most horror writers could never in their life craft a sentence like he can. He’s a classically trained dancer in a field where most are outside shuffling on a sheaf of cardboard for spare change. It’s a pleasure to read this book. His insights into werewolf transformation, the nature of immortality (and I think he borrowed from Amis’s short story ‘the Immortals’), the lurking, flickering spirit of lust and hunger as it dashes between both states, are fabulous. But there’s… no there there.
I was waiting for that pulse, that black throbbing pustule that makes great horror. But Jacob Marlowe, the immortal and titular main character, is terribly bored. He’s seen it all. Duncan has made the mistake of deconstructing the werwolf myth too much. Jake is rich, constantly horny, and dealing with a zealous anti-supernatural agency that has destroyed all the werewolves in the world ( their greatest triumph was the making of a bait website that advertises lycanthropine hook-ups called Werewolf-fuckfest.com) and are zeroing in on him. There’s lots of action and gore. But I was never frightened, creeped out, or otherwise disturbed. I was looking for horror, and instead I got a comedy of wits and manners with werewolves.
But read it. I wasn’t frightened, but a lot of horror books aren’t frightening. So many horror books are horribly written, but this was wonderful. Yes, there is a slight feeling that the author is genre-slumming to make a quick buck( or just a buck period, since it’s tough to make a living as a writer), but nonetheless his talent should be welcomed.