by Trisha Leaver and Lindsey Currie Genres: Horror Published by Flux
on November 1st, 2014 Format:
Three went in. Three came out. None even a shadow of who they once were.Buy the Book (Book Depository)
When their car breaks down, Dee, her boyfriend Luke, and his brother Mike walk through a winter storm to take refuge in a nearby town called Purity Springs. When they arrive, the emergency sirens are blaring and the small farming town seems abandoned. With no other shelter, they spend the night in an empty house.
But they soon discover that not everything in Purity Springs is as it seems. When the town's inhabitants suddenly appear the next morning, Dee, Luke, and Mike find themselves at the mercy of the charismatic leader, Elijah Hawkins, who plans to make Dee his new wife. Elijah's son, Joseph, offers to help them escape . . . but the price of his help may be more than Dee and her friends can bear.
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What follows is a negative review, one I went back and forth on writing, especially after I opened my big gob on Twitter. But I like the vibe I’m getting from Leaver and Currie. They’re two ferocious talents, and I fully believe they will write a YA horror masterpiece if they choose to stay in the genre (and I hope they do). I want that book, YA needs that book. They energize some truly wretched cliches in Creed, but if I could personally tell them anything it’s that they don’t need the cliches or the tropes.
…And when I read that book, I’m going to go bonkers in the best possible way.
Full disclosure time. I was raised in one of the harshest, secretive, and legalistic Christian fundamentalist groups out there, the Institute in Basic Life Principles/Advance Training Institute International, the same group the Duggars evangelize for. I could spend the rest of this review chronicling the lives destroyed by fundamentalism’s dehumanizing and evil theology (as a distinct thing from the people and Christianity in general), but basically it’s the stuff of psychological horror. It took years to mentally and emotionally leave fundyland even after I physically left.
As to the review, Bleed–as in what my eyes are currently doing–is a psychological horror novel that lacks both psychology and horror.
The first third of the book is brilliant, utterly, dismember-my-limbs brilliant. I was ready to proclaim Screed–as in what this review is–my book of the year. The characters were good, the atmosphere was perfect. Hell, at one point, I was scared. It captured the feeling of being trapped in a fundy cult so perfectly that the part of me that loses his shit at the slightest whiff of their sulfur was going nuts. As the characters search the empty houses they find a book that gives the ‘Godly’ instructions on abusing their kids. I went cold. Such a book exists. I was flash backing hard… and loving it. They even did an unbelievably good job of showing the cult’s beliefs through their practices.
For one glittering, joyful moment I thought this book was going to be the horror novel that told the ex-fundy story right. I was shaking, I came as close as I ever get to tears.
And the rest of the book is a Tarantino-style movie as made by 10-year-olds in their backyard on a VHS camera.
We get a walking tour of the town with the cult leader’s son, who explains everything in a tedious rush, like a bad actor gushing exposition from every pore. The dialogue and writing gets so sloppy Dee can’t remember if she lied sentences after she lied, along with whole conversations that don’t make any damn sense. Dee misses some of the clearest things to see and tries to pass them off as big reveals when her rotting brain catches up. At this point I stopped giving a damn about everyone. I stopped caring about Dee when she semi-works with Joseph. I never cared about Joseph because he’s the Most Holy Reverend of The Church of Fucktarded Morons. The characters I loved so much at the beginning all grew room temperature IQs. The book tries to go for a claustrophobic feeling in the middle and only managed to bore me. For every page I read past the halfway point, I played five minutes of a video game just to stay engaged.
Elijah No. No. No. That cliche is not allowed while I’m reviewing. From now on out he’s Joe Dipshit the III, of the Westchester Dipshits. Joe Dipshit the III controls the cult through magic–yes, for all intents and purposes it’s magic–I never believed this simpering, incompetent, mouth breathing, inbred doofus was capable of controlling his own bowel movements, much less a town. Since I’ve been on the receiving end of fundy brainwashing, I was physically nauseous at the comical way his power is explained.
I’m not even sure if there’s a true believer in the lot or anyone struggling with their faith–Joe Dipshit the III never struck me as more than power hungry. This strips all the depth away and renders the villains as less sinister than Patrick from Spongebob Squarepants, they’re assholes ’cause assholes. Twirl the ole mustache again, Joe. Sans the depth, the cult is yet another fancy pair of drapes on the scenery.
I skipped to the end to avoid another DNF, and as predictably as the sun rising, we get a dumb, fatalistic ending.
The difference between fatalism and fundamentalism is in fundyland the fatalism is gleefully perverted and voyeuristic. Horror is good with downer endings, it’s good with pessimistic endings, it stops being horror when fatalism is introduced. Fatalism renders every action, every choice, every conflict meaningless, because it never matted in in the first place. If nothing matters, nothing is scary.
This violates every rule of good fiction.
This philosophically says the fundies are right.
It’s not as bad as the The Merciless, where people are evil because they’re really demons, but it’s close. It’s an insult both to the writers’ talent and an insult to the reader. Tragically, this is an instance where a pessimistic ending could’ve worked.
Since nothing matters, it doesn’t matter if you read Breed–as in that thing people with emotional needs do–or not. I was going to recommend this for people who lack my baggage and aren’t too familiar with religion in general, but not with that ending.
I got a strong Children of The Corn vibe from Steed–as in what I’ll ride to get away from revising this review 30 fucking times–and sure enough, Leaver said in an interview that Corn was a major inspiration, so let’s do a quick literary analysis.
The reason the downer ending works in Corn, but is fatalistic in Keyed–as what I wanted to do to characters and then their car–is Corn’s ending results from Burt’s pride-driven choices, each of his idiotic choices makes sense within the context of the character and gives the reader a glimpse to why his marriage is failing, he’s utterly unsympathetic. The ending satisfies because the prick gets what he deserves.
Dee, however, is sympathetic, and yet, like so many other horror MCs, never makes an active choice, at least not in the 70% of the book I read. This makes the fatalism all the worse and even more fundamentalist.
Thematically Children of the Corn is about the collapse of the trusted and traditional American institutions in the ’70s, like church and family, and the children are the final result of the failure of those two institutions. The story ends with a final glimpse into the sick mockeries that have replaced them. Every element in Corn blends, adds, and builds on this theme.
In Tweed-as in… well, shit I don’t have one for this word—nothing makes thematic sense–maybe it was in the 30% I didn’t read. The elements almost seemed to line up, but the more I think about them, the less coherent they become, and the more I want to write the forced marriage thing off as something creepy for creepy’s sake, because it doesn’t make sense in the context of the cult’s beliefs. If the why–and no the disease thing doesn’t qualify as a good why–of the cult’s belief was explained and Dee was a character struggling with her faith, trying to reconcile her belief with the abuse she suffered from her dad, perhaps this would make sense and unify the two halves of the book. I assuming this is the theme. There’s also a lot about purity, but that never gelled either and made even less sense.
Also Burt and Vicky end up in Gatlin by accident. The boy runs into the road by accident. Dee and the gang end up in Purity’s Springs through stupidity and the attempt at justification through the characters is okay, but doesn’t fully compensate for stain of original idiocy. From there, they only make increasing dumb decisions. To scare the audience, the characters need to make smart choices, get screwed by the villain, and then you have the reader quivering in fear.
As a side note, I owe a lot to Children of the Corn for getting me out of fundyland.
These are only the highlights of what bugged me. In essence, there’s two books here, a serious horror novel that could’ve been a towering, glorious masterpiece, and one that’s b-movie crap.
Read Scowler and The Violet Hour instead.