Recently I signed up for ECW Press’s Shelf Monkey program, which allows you to submit titles of their books you’d be interested in reading and reviewing. They enter your choices in a draw and if you win they ship the book to you. What, I ask, is better than free books?
Jen Knoch, who runs the Keepin’ It Real Book Club but also happens to work at ECW sent me my first book for review, the aptly named and eerily designed One Bloody Thing After Another by Joey Comeau (who, I have to include here, is a mere 30 years old, dammit). This sort-of-YA book has had rave reviews from Quill & Quire, Globe and Mail, Los Angeles Times, and more, and though I’m not at all a horror fan I thought, sure, whatever. It’s less than 200 pages and the chapters are short.
Boy, was I in for a surprise. Which just goes to show, sometimes you should step out of your comfort zone and try something altogether different. And let me tell you, this book’s definitely different, and it actively avoids being definitively categorized.
It’s rare, I have to admit, that a book takes me so little time to read—a couple of hours, if that—and not only because it’s short.
Last night I was working but Comeau’s book lay invitingly beside me on the table, having just arrived in the mail, and finally I couldn’t deny it anymore and picked it up—just to have a peek, you understand. I’m already reading another book. But better to open this one than to have that black kitten’s eyes boring a hole through the side of my head.
Before I knew it, I was on page 107, the manuscript I had been proofing still on my lap, red pencil still in hand. I couldn’t believe it. I had got so caught up in the story I forgot about everything else. I couldn’t help it. It wasn’t on purpose. Jen told me I had time to read and review it. But talk about an easy read.
I’m not all about horror, as I said. I don’t read it. But this book was so unexpectedly engrossing, so sneaky about the horror bits, subtly, matter-of-factly slipping them in among tender scenes of various forms of love, loss, friendship, and family, that it wasn’t like anything else I’d tried, and therefore not a deterrent. As I said, the novel defies categorization.
And yet, while the supernatural and even gory bits slyly weaved in and out of the story, they commanded quite a presence. I was grossed out, unsettled, chilled, the hairs raising on my arms and back of neck when I put the book down. It was as though as long as I kept reading I would be okay, but when I closed my eyes those horrifying bits became magnified. Which is of course what makes the book great, among other things, like it’s poetic brevity of sentence, paragraph, chapter and the book as a whole. I’ve always enjoyed that spooky thrill a book can give, even when I was very young. Ghost and other supernatural stories were among my favourites.
Comeau’s writing was excellent: the present tense, the characterization, the mixture of humour with horror, the unexpected, the suggestion or ambiguity of many things, the short and powerful sentences, the poignancy, and his masterful choice of words all married to produce an impressive story that in its brevity finds even more power.
The book’s layout was superb as well, and the frisson I felt when I first realized there was that tiny spidery text on the bottom of some pages and what it meant and said — how clever, but more so, how spooky! — was enough to make me love this book. Well, is love the right word? I don’t know; somehow it seems inappropriate for the subject matter. It was compelling, creepy, touching…ultimately haunting.
Haha. Well done, Comeau.