Kids, by Paul M. Feeney, A Review
It goes without saying that any number of factors combine in order to make great horror. Everyone is going to be different and will want their own sweet spots to get attention throughout the narrative.
The extreme horror genre is one that seems to be gaining momentum these days, books with elevated levels of violence and graphic description. These are titles that challenge you, almost to the point of not finishing the book.
For me though, mastery of the craft of horror involves the ability to evoke feelings of dread and fear from the implications of the scenes you are reading, as opposed to going to excess with the gore. I’m not saying that one is right and one is wrong, just what I prefer.
Just to make an example, in Pet Semetary, Victor Pascow terrified me because I didn’t want to think that someone’s life could end while simply in the process of riding their bike. It wasn’t because of how graphically Stephen King described his injuries. Also, it scared me to think that somewhere out there on the other side of that mortal divide, there could be a darkness that would do us harm. And all of those fears were what I saw personified in this character.
It was the idea of Pascow that scared me more than the image of Pascow. For me, Pascow represents the horrifying fact that at any moment, anything around you can be made from benign to deadly and threatening. Anxiety driven from the unknown and from the endless possibility of danger from moment to moment is a potent kind of fear.
Kids, by Paul Feeney was one of my favorite new books from last year. I have made in no unclear terms that I am a fan of the Dark Mind novella series that has, to date published five outstanding stories. This was the third installment and I thought it did a fine job holding up the trend.
At a base level, the story itself is simple. A small group of friends are getting together for a short vacation with their children, what should be a relaxing day with loved ones.
This quickly proves to not be the case.
The kids vanish from the group with no explanation but before their absence can really be felt, a transformation of sorts takes place and these once docile children become a violent and dangerous threat to their parents.
Feeney doesn’t waste any time getting into the heart of the action and, in what I think solidifies the brilliance of the story, remains ambiguous about the actual cause of the event. Is there some kind of toxin in the environment that brings about the change in these kids? Is there a monstrous force inhabiting their bodies and wreaking mayham? Feeney leaves that open to interpretation. And why is that so important?
Because it’s more scary to not know.
If I’m outside, walking around barefoot and I cut myself on some broken glass, I can easily understand what happened and how to avoid it. Stop walking around in parking lots with no shoes on. What would terrify me is the notion that at some point and without warning, my feet could simply start bleeding.
Our brains inherently need to see the cause and effect. To see an effect with no cause scares us, deeply.
I’m a parent myself. My boys are my world. Everything else in my life is defined in relation to them. So I completely relate to the frightening duality of needing to protect your kids while at the same time seeing them as a threat to you. To what extent do you deal with those conflicting feelings? Do you defend yourself, even if doing so could mean hurting someone you care about? What wins out in the end, the programmed urge to survive or the need to protect your offspring? It makes for a fascinating dynamic and one that made the book that much more compelling.
I don’t want to give the impression that this book only works on a cerebral level. There is also a healthy amount of action and gore that fans of the horror genre have come to expect from their art. I think Feeney has struck a nice balance in crafting a story that will shock you while at the same time leave kernels of uncomfortable contemplation. And it all builds up together to a final chapter that is a brilliant landing spot for the book as a whole.
There’s truly nothing new under the sun. Any idea that can be had has happened. With that said, I respect Feeney for not leaning on the typical trappings of a horror story and making an effort to shift such a harmless situation to one loaded with danger. It isn’t much of a stretch to imagine perils for the couple walking through a cemetery late at night or spending the night in the creepy abandoned house. It’s easy to see danger ahead when you’re in the laboratory, watching a marginally ethical experiment in genetics taking place. When you have someone fishing in a darkened cove where you just saw a ship sinking, you can pretty much see what’s coming.
But this book still manages to surprise. Even after reading the description, as you move through the opening to the story you have a hard time sensing the impending threat. It’s simply too disturbing to contemplate. And before long, Feeney moves that threat beyond the theoretical and shoves it into harsh reality.
For me, this is one of those books, an example of craft that sparks the creative side of my brain and makes me want to do better as an author.
If books serve as food for writers, this little novella is a five course meal.
Click here. Buy your copy of Kids today!