A few months ago I was listening an interview with John F.D. Taff where he talked about the novella being the perfect feature for a horror story, and how much he enjoyed writing in that format. As a rule, I typically gravitate towards novels in the 3-400 page range. I saw this as an opportunity to try something different for a month and focus in on stories that are more expanded and fully realized than short fiction, but could be taken in over the course of just a couple days. Sometimes in a single sitting. Most of what defines a novella that I could find lies in word count, so I set my definition pretty broadly at more than 50 pages, but under 200. So, without further ado, I’d like to share a bit about some of the novellas I’ve spent time with in the past week.
The Pale White by Chad Lutzke
This is the first book I’m reading from Lutzke besides Night as a Catalyst, one of his short fiction collections. I’d heard a million and one great things about this, and that Lutzke is a writer who excels at writing at this length. With that in mind, starting here was a no-brainer.
The storytelling in this book is beyond reproach, and truth be told, Lutzke puts as much story in 98 pages as some authors do in 300. He accomplishes this by dropping us directly into the action, and has us caring deeply about all 3 girls in just a few pages. I don’t know exactly how he pulled it off. The man must be magic.
The Pale White is beautiful, it’s heartbreaking, and it’s (unfortunately) very real. As much as we’re reading the product of Lutzke’s imagination, it feels like we could be reading the stylized account of a true story, even with the vampire element, which also plays right into the many strengths of the book. If you’ve read this, I hope you loved it, and if you haven’t, I hope you’ll check it out.
Pretty Mary’s all in a Row by Gwendolyn Kiste
I try, and often fail, not to judge a book by its cover, but come on, look at this one. Combine that with a very unique synopsis, and this was always going to be one of the first books I picked up this month. Gwendolyn Kiste puts five fabled Marys all into one place together, Resurrection Mary, Mari Lwyd, Bloody Mary, Miss Mary Mack, and Mistress Mary Quite Contrary. This serves to create an environment of fantasy and fairy tale, sprinkled with horror.
It’s a strong idea that would have had me turning pages anyway, but it thrives due to Kiste’s inviting storytelling voice. I got to about page ten and realized two things.
1.) This author has two other books I shall require post haste.
2.) There’s a fair chance I would read Gwendolyn Kiste’s account of a trip to a box factory, or something equally mundane.
A good plot, and warm (albeit ghostly) well-written characters are terrific, but this is all presented in a narrative that wraps you up in its loving arms, and draws you in, but then refuses to let you go.
The Possession of Natalie Glasgow by Hailey Piper
12:05 pm – I sit down and open this book, hopeful to get a start on it during lunch.
1:30 pm – flip to page 104 and el fin.
I won’t pretend to know Hailey Piper’s intentions with this book, but it sure as hell reads as though it was designed to give the reader an all-in-one sitting, complete experience akin to going to the movies.
I made sure to say going to the movies, as opposed to just watching a movie. Watching a movie gives you opportunity to pause, hit the bathroom, fold some laundry, make sure the kids aren’t killing each other, but going to the movies is the full experience. You sit down and commit the next 90 minutes of your life to this ride. Oh, and it doesn’t stop and wait for you to use the restroom.
I saw a lot of people I trust say this was an original take on possession, and I was interested as all get out, but afraid I might be building it up to a point it couldn’t possibly reach. No fear there, because they were all dead on. No one is writing a big reveal that shakes out quite like this one. Hats off to Hailey Piper because this book is creepy, it’s tense and suspenseful, scary at times, and my pleasure to have read.
Tribesmen by Adam Cesare
I don’t think I’ve ever four new books by four new authors in one week. Alas, this is also my introduction to the work of Adam Cesare. Tribesmen is unapologetic 80’s VHS horror mania. It works as a take on cannibal bloodbath movies such as Cannibal Holocaust. Movies that caused the general public to question whether some of the stuff on film really went down. Tribesmen gives us something of a behind-the-scenes explanation for how that could occur. There’s a fair bit of supernatural present, but it spends most of the story lurking in the background, making people appear to be the real evil.
The jumping point of view chapters for the players that make up the film crew give us a wide look at all that is going on, but also provide us with the illusion that the people whose heads we keep ending up in are safe. Not quite so. This book is gruesome, grimy, gore-filled, grotesque and I’m sure some other adjectives that don’t start with G. The storytelling is straight forward and unrelenting