(I've got a two-parter tonight! The first book I'll discuss is a disgusting mess, and honestly kinda lousy. The second though is one I'd recommend, so if you don't feel like reading all of this, that's the part I'd recommend the most if you're bothering to read any of my rambling at all! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!
I've read a lot of splatterpunk lately. Nothing too new for me, but I've realized that a lot of the newer authors in this genre just come off like they're trying WAY too hard to be the next Edward Lee, and largely failing at doing so. I kept hearing about how sick and twisted Matthew Stokoe's "Cows
" was. Well, it was sick and twisted I suppose. But it felt so shallow, and that's saying something for a splatterpunk book. A lot of these books will either insidiously crawl under your skin and disgust you (like "The Girl Next Door
" by the late, great Jack Ketchum.) or not take themselves TOO seriously, meant instead of be repulsive, but entertaining, knowing full well that they're the literature equivalent of trash cinema. (Like pretty much all Edward Lee works. The Big Head
, Brain Cheese Buffet
One thing I kept seeing regarding Stokoe was that he writes better than he has any right to in comparison to his genre of choice. I'll also disagree with that. Yes, he writes his novels more like actual novels, and less like some whack job telling you a tall tale while drunk in an alley and shooting heroine (which is how a lot of Edward Lee's books come off, intentionally, and hilariously.) But at the same time with how hard he tries to go absurdly over the top to disgust the reader, it just falls flat, and like I said, ultimately feels like he's trying too hard. Compare that style again to Jack Ketchum, and it's night and day. Jack could write, in fact he was known for more than just uncomfortably shocking splatterpunk, he was known as a genuine horror writer as well. The Girl Next Door may be based off of a true story (For anyone who's interested and willing to hate humanity for a little while, it's based on the story of Sylvia Likens.), but it was embellished enough to function as a novel rather than just a true crime story of gut-wrenching proportion. Even if that particular story WAS based largely on true events, Jack could write believable characters. If you wanted further proof of that just look at his next most famous piece of work, "Off Season
", which wasn't based on a true story and purely fictional (thankfully).
So in the end we have a book filled with a metric ton of of disgustingly brutal physical, mental and sexual abuse. ****, murder, beastiality, animal cruelty, necrophilia, etc, etc. Ya know, the typical Splatterpunk stuff. And I guess there's some sort of message underlying the filth here, but is ANYONE reading this genre for a moral or some more complex message? I can't help but go back to my sentiment that in this genre, there are only two real viable outcomes. Tongue in cheek absurdity that fully embraces, acknowledges and loves what it is. Or soul-shattering depravity that sticks with you like a disgusting layer of filthy grime coated over your brain long after you've read it. Anything falling in between, at least in my opinion, seems to come off like this book. Trying too hard to be the latter without the foresight and self awareness to be the former. I think in this case, this book seems to have been a lot of people (especially a younger generation's) first entry in the genre. And while it IS disgusting and vile, it's not much else, and comes off as forced in trying to be as much. Which actually kind of misses the point of Splatterpunk.
So this one, I can't say I'd recommend it, even if you're a splatterpunk veteran and have the stomach for it.
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Now on the flip side of this one, I also read "No One Gets Out Alive"
by Adam Nevill. This was actually also a difficult read at times, though it's straight horror and not splatterpunk this time around. It has some seriously uncomfortable moments, especially in it's first half. Tense to the point of being almost overwhelming and frustrating at times. Though, to be honest I think some of that frustration was in how damn STUPID the main character, a young lady named Stephanie acts in a lot of the scenarios she faces. Yet despite this, without spoiling anything seriously, she ends up becoming a much more relatable character by the second half of the book.
There were some great creepy moments to be had in this book, some genuinely uncomfortable ones as well. As I mentioned above, it wasn't always an easy read, despite Nevill's very relaxed prose. One things for sure to me about this guy though, he can write some chilling stuff when he wants to. I didn't really need convincing of that after reading "Last Days
" by him last year, but this book just further proved it. (That book still has one of my favorite modern horror creatures to come from a piece of literature in quite some time. If you happen to have read it, I'll just say this. That farmhouse was the stuff of legitimate nightmares!) Another thing I've noticed about Nevill's books is that they seem to follow a pattern of feeling slightly segmented into two distinct parts. Out of the three novels I've read of his now, "Last Days
" felt the least suspect of this, but it was still guilty of it to some extent in it's last few chapters. The other two though "The Ritual
" and now "No One Gets Out Alive
" absolutely feel like two different stories when they have their "divide". In fact, in the case of "The Ritual
", Netflix did a movie of this one...and decided to end it at the literal halfway point of the novel, when it drastically switches gears. Strange, considering you literally only get half of the story with no actual resolution or explanation of the events that happen in the first half. And it left out, in my opinion, the best half of the book. (Which is probably why the movie wasn't perceived particularly well.)
I don't want to spoil things here, but this book has this "divide" as well, and when I say it's a "divide", I don't mean it lightly. It takes a drastic turn midway or so through and switches gears, nearly becoming a different book, or at least what feels like a direct sequel. But that's not to say that it does so in a bad way, it actually works quite well here. The tone of the overall horror of the book changes in the second half too, though you catch hints of it in the first half. Where the first half of the book is more about an absolutely oppressive atmosphere of a girl down on her luck and desperate to just get by stuck in a terrible situation that only gets worse by the day, the second half gets a lot more supernatural.
I know the above few paragraphs might come off as me complaining, but I want to make clear that I don't intend for this to be overly negative, as in truth I thought this was a fantastic book. Whereas Stokoe's "Cows
" felt cheap, forced, and ultimately like fluff, Nevill's "No One Gets Out Alive
" is the opposite. It hits hard, leaves a lasting impact, and absolutely strangles you at times with it's tension. It's a decently long read, and a slow burn to start, but one I'd recommend. Adam Nevill is regularly called "Britain's Answer to Stephen King" and to be honest, I think that's a very fair comparison and level of praise for him. The guy is good.
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