Halloween Read: “Little Heaven” by Nick Cutter

little heaven

Little Heaven is an intense read.  Three bounty hunters are hired to save a boy from a cult called Little Heaven in New Mexico.  It’s obvious something is very badly wrong in Little Heaven–monsters lurk in the woods and children have been disappearing.  Our bounty hunters, Micah, Ebenezer, and Minerva, just want to get the job done, but they find themselves drawn into something dark and otherworldly, threatening everyone’s lives.

The narrative goes back and forth in time from the 1980’s to the 1960’s.  In the present, Micah’s daughter has been lured away from home by a creature.  And in the past, we get the history of Micah, Ebenezer, and Minerva’s first encounter with this same creature, and how they ended up bound together as well as bound to the darkness.  There’s also the story of Little Heaven itself, and the Reverend Amos Flesher, who founded it (and who has his own dark secrets and leanings).

Little Heaven is gory and dripping with dread all the way through.  There’s also a feeling almost like a Western.  The sense of foreboding, and of an otherworldly threat, saturate the story, but the mercenaries are lone-wolf types who just do the jobs they’re hired to do.  The desert setting is gritty, vast, and lonely, well-suited to the bleak mood.

Yet, the ending has a tiny, tiny shred of hope, both for the characters and for humanity.  It’s not happy by any stretch, but there is that hope.  There’s also some black humor throughout which helps to balance the dark imagery.

If you like gory horror with great action, monsters, and an intense mood, give this one a try this Halloween!   There’s also a lot to like if you’re a fan of vintage Stephen King–the tone and themes are pretty similar.

 

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Marie’s Reading: “The Heavenly Table” by Donald Ray Pollock

Heavenly TableThe Heavenly Table is set in 1917 in and around a small town in Ohio.  One storyline concerns the Jewett brothers, the other a farmer named Ellsworth Fiddler.  The Jewett boys live a poor, hardscrabble life with their crazy father, Pearl.  Ellsworth lost his family savings in a swindle, and his son Eddie has taken to drinking and disappearing.  As the book goes on, these storylines grow and then intersect.

Along the way there are several more subplots and characters whose stories converge with those of the Jewetts or Ellsworth (or both), adding to the layered and well-populated feel of the story.

The Heavenly Table is atmospheric and vivid.  Engrossing, gritty and dark, and completely absorbing.  There’s a certain raw quality to Pollock’s writing, one that can be gory and gruesome.  There’s a lot of violence in this book, of many different kinds. And yet there’s also pathos and humor, and maybe even a kernel of goodness.

It’s got the feel of a Western, with all the outlaws and whores and soldiers and poor farmers.  But it’s the more the modern, nuanced kind, without too many good guys or lone heroes.  Interestingly, I noticed that one of the subject headings for this book is “Noir fiction.”  So-called “rural noir,” with lots of bleakness and darkness, is pretty in right now.  Sort of a descendant of Southern Gothic.

For readers of Daniel Woodrell, particularly Winter’s Bone.  I’d also suggest Black River by S.M. Hulse if you want something with a similar Western tone but not quite as violent or bleak.  Kings of the Earth or Finn by Jon Clinch might also be good.  Also, do try Pollock’s other books, Knockemstiff and Devil All the Time.

–Marie

26 Books to Read in 2015: #10

My next read for the 26 Books to Read in 2015 Challenge is lucky number ten!

#10: A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit.

Black River

A couple of years ago I developed an intense, inexplicable desire to see Montana.

I have no relatives in Montana.  I have no friends who came back from Montana and said, “Marie, you gotta go to Montana!”  I don’t hunt or fish or interact with bears.  I don’t know how to camp or to mine coal.  I am an indifferent hiker prone to falling down.  I have no interest in pronouncing “Butte” correctly.

Still, though.

I really want to visit Montana.  Look at their tourism website!  Everything looks so sweeping and grand and immensely beautiful.  A different sort of beauty altogether than what we have in New England.  There are two national parks there, Yellowstone and Glacier.

As if all that wasn’t enough, comedian Rich Hall lives in Montana!

Rich Hall

He coined the term “sniglet.” The more you know.

Until I can steal an Airstream trailer and go AWOL from the library for a couple weeks, though, I’ll have to make do with novels that boast a beautiful and evocative sense of place, like S.M. Hulse’s Black River.

This novel is about an ex-prison guard named Wes, who was maimed during a prison riot years ago.  When his wife passes away, he goes back to his little hometown of Black River, Montana, to see his estranged stepson and put his wife (and ghosts) to rest.

There’s a gorgeous emotional honesty to this character-driven Western.   Wes has a lot of past to overcome, particularly when the inmate who tortured him during the long-ago riot comes up for parole.  Hulse really gets to the heart of the old-fashioned Western–at their cores the best Westerns are stories about redemption, of strength in the face of adversity, and of setting an out-of-joint world to rights again.  Black River is about all of those things, presented simply and well and without a lot of drama and fuss (also like a good Western!).

A pretty good patch on a trip to Montana for now.

There’s also this, which has nothing to do with Montana but does give me a Rich Hall fix.

–Marie