Category Archives: Book Reviews

Review: Night Ocean by Paul La Farge

61i42kqgs3l-_sx328_bo1204203200_I hate three star reviews, the critic’s version of a “meh.” When you pour your heart and soul into writing a book, you hope to inspire something. Preferably joy, horror, love, etc., depending on the genre. If not that, loathing works. A one star review means someone was passionate about your book.  I’m as likely to buy a novel on the basis of a well-written one star review as I am a similarly passionate five star review. But three stars? Meh.

As much as I hate to say it, The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge falls squarely in that three star range for me. It shouldn’t have been this way.

The Night Ocean is part of the new hotness that is re-imagining or re-purposing Lovecraft with an ironic twist that would have horrified the late master of the unseen forces that bend men’s fates.  The Ballad of Black Tomwhich I loved, does this with racism. Lovecraft Countrycurrently on my reading list, does the same. The Night Ocean tackles the dubious subject of Lovecraft’s sexuality. This, I was not expecting. I was also skeptical, and remain so, that this is a subject that’s all that interesting. We know that Lovecraft was married. His wife Sonia Greene called him “an adequately excellent lover.” (Talk about a three star review). But other than that, Lovecraft is thought of as decidedly a-sexual, too isolated from humanity to enjoy love or its attendant physical pursuits.

The Night Ocean posits that Lovecraft may have been gay and may have had an illicit affair with a young protege, Robert Barlow, who authored a short story of the same name as our novel. The husband of our protagonist sets off to discover the truth, and in doing so gets himself tangled in a story of mystery and deceit that takes the entire novel to unravel.

Now you may be asking yourself, where’s the horror? And that would be precisely the problem. I stumbled upon The Night Ocean while reading an article entitled “8 Lovecraftian Tales for Those Who Don’t Want to Read Lovecraft which I was pleasantly surprised to see included That Which Should Not BeSince the article’s author clearly has good taste, I decided to pick up some of the other books on the list as well. The Night Ocean was one of them.

The Night Ocean starts off well, promising an almost House of Leavesstyle story within a story, where nothing is ever quite what it seems and the author may not be completely reliable. A couple biographies later and the book was over, without anything all that Lovecraftian ever having happened.

I think it was my expectations that ruined it for me. The book is well written, with all the literary fiction quality one would expect from a book stamped with the “A novel” disclaimer. But it’s not horror. Not at all. So for me, it was just…meh.

3 Stars



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Review: The Ballad of Black Tom

51ok2bmublil-_sx311_bo1204203200_Although some in the horror community struggle to admit it, Lovecraft, for all his brilliance, was also a racist. I’ve written about it before on this site, and it’s a side of the man we should not shy away from. Victor LaVelle has done more than confront it; he’s applied his considerable talent to turn one of Lovecraft’s most troubling–and not in a good way–stories into something far more compelling.

The Ballad of Black Tom is a retelling of Lovecraft’s story, “The Horror at Red Hook.” The story derives directly from the xenophobia that Lovecraft’s time in New York City only served to intensify. It’s considered one of Lovecraft’s worst stories (even Lovecraft panned it), and one might think it a strange choice for basing a modern retelling. But therein lies LaVelle’s genius. He takes a story born in racial hatred and turns it on its head. The Synopsis:

People move to New York looking for magic and nothing will convince them it isn’t there.

Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table, keep the roof over his father’s head, from Harlem to Flushing Meadows to Red Hook. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their cops. But when he delivers an occult tome to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic, and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.

A storm that might swallow the world is building in Brooklyn. Will Black Tom live to see it break?

If you’ve read The Horror at Red Hook, you know the basic story. Detective Malone plays a role here, but he is not the central character. Neither is Robert Suydam. For it is Tester, despised because of his race, who ultimately has the power to raise the Old Ones. But more importantly, it is he who understands them, understands what is it is to be an outcast, and understands the desire to form a new world. He could stop them, too, but after living a life of the worst kind of abuse at the hands of a society that hates him, will he bother?

There is so much to enjoy about The Ballad of Black Tom that I scare believe I could do it justice. For all the greatness of Lovecraft, it’s a reminder of what he could have accomplished if he’d been able to overcome his worst tendencies.

4 stars

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31 Days of Halloween: The Ritual by Adam Nevill

220px-the_ritual_adam_nevill_coverI’ve been meaning to read Adam Nevill for a while, and in the spirit of Halloween, I picked up one of his many highly regarded novels–The Ritual.

Four friends from University strike off into the Scandinavian hinterland to rekindle their friendship while enjoying the majesty of the great outdoors. But at least two of the crew aren’t the athletic specimens they once were, and after an accident gives one a bum knee, they decide to take a shortcut through an uncharted forest. Things get bad when they discover the corpse of a large animal hanging from a tree–minus its skin–and they get worse when they find an ancient idol in a forgotten farmstead. Now something is hunting them, and what started as a camping trip soon becomes a fight for survival.

This is a pretty freaky book, but I came away from The Ritual feeling strangely about it. The novel is in two parts. The first part, I loved. The second part…I felt like it went a little off the rails, thought it redeemed itself toward the end. So I can’t recommend The Ritual unreservedly. Having said that. Nevill is a true talent. His writing sings, and he has a way of pulling you in that a lot of other authors could learn from.

The Ritual was my first book by Nevill, but it won’t be my last.

3.5 Stars

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