There’s something to be said about realism in horror. The late great Wes Craven often spoke about hard truths during many of his interviews, even if said piece or film he was working on had supernatural elements, the story in itself was ultimately real. Raw. Not an untruth. Recently, I had the pleasure of reading J.R. Park’s newest adventure, Upon Waking. And I was reminded very much of what Craven had said, about how the most terrifying things are real and how people used to ask him how he could live with himself (and I’m paraphrasing a lot here) putting these “evil” thoughts and imaginations out there (“out there” being the “real world”). And I adore his response, Craven is like, “What world do you live in? Cause it sounds really nice. I think I’d like to live there.” This particular segment during his interview in Nightmares in the Red, White, and Blue stroke a cord with me. Because he’s right. Horror, those terrifying words of macabre, are not aimed to be untruths, to create something that could never exist; but rather, quite the opposite.
What Mr. Park has created here with his new novel, Upon Waking, is very much a truth, as squeamish as some of his scenes are. Cassie, our villain in this story (and there’s no spoiler there) isn’t some mythical monster, she’s real, horrifying so. She’s a next door neighbor. The woman you pass on the street without so much as a second glance. You don’t see her. She blends in the crowd. But she’s watching. Perhaps you. And it that’s the case, well…I’ll pray for you. Cassie has a house. It is very much a house of horrors, but it is also decorated in the mundane, almost banal in its sterility. This isn’t the house of H.H. Holmes, with all the mazes and hidden compartments and traps and such. This isn’t a funhouse. There are rooms, most of which you’ll find locked until Mr. Park is ready to show you the nightmare held within. Once he does open the door, everything is on full gruesome display.
When I first started reading Upon Waking, I was almost lulled by the style and chosen format of his book. Its almost like poetry, in form and prose. But its a trick. A fantastically disgusting trick. And when you’re finished with this 160 or so pages read, you’ll need to look back at some of the “chapters.” Notice the quotations around chapters? Well…the author here didn’t really use chapters per say, instead (with a stroke of genius, I must say) of chapters he gives us moments. Moments of characters that have or interact with Cassie and her horrible plain-Jane house.
And there’s more. I think one of the more mesmerizing things in this book is the how J.R. Park was able to write some of these grizzly scenes in very candid detail whilst maintaining this sense of un-urgency. He takes his time. Slow. Methodical. So much so you almost miss the plot of the story. Walking, or tip-toeing more like, through the halls of Cassie’s house, I nearly forgot about Gary and his search for his missing son. As one reviewer has already pointed out, Upon Waking deserves a re-read, despite as much as you probably don’t want to, for fear of losing your lunch or spoiling dessert. You’ll need too. Because there is a devilish twist at the end, leaving the reading pondering “was she…is she…?”
If you’re looking for a short but gut punching read, you’ll want to check out J.R. Park’s Upon Waking. Its like a cross between Madame LaLaurie and The People Under the Stairs. You’ll squirm. You may even gag. You might need to look away. But for those depraved enough, you’ll take it, and you’ll probably enjoy it too, you sick sick puppies.
Get can get your copy of Upon Waking here.
My Rating: 4/5
And before you ask, yes, this is the complete and uncut edition review. In case you were wondering, because I know you are. When mentioning broadly that I was reading The Stand, it was by far the first question many mentioned, or stated thereof: “Make sure you’re reading the uncut or you’ll have to start all over again.” And they’re right. If one was to read The Stand for the first time or at least the first time in a decade or two, you may want to invest in this behemoth, M-O-O-N, that spells 1,000 plus page journey into the heart of the 1990s psyche. The Stand is as the New York Post commented roughly 25 years ago, “In many ways, this is a book for the 1990’s, when America [was] beginning to see itself less and less in the tall image of Lincoln or even the robust one of Johnny Appleseed and more and more as a dazed behemoth with padded shoulders. Americans seemed delighted but in an odd way humiliated when Vaclav Havel, a tiny man from a small country, entered the great halls of Congress and delivered an uninflated Jeffersonian address. ‘The Stand,’ complete and uncut, is about the padded shoulders and the behemoth and the humiliation.”
I believe, for better or worse, this above 25 year review remains true today as it did then. The Stand is ultimately about humiliation, or perhaps something more, perhaps humility as well and not just the embarrassment of a plagued ego. There is both hope and fear in that notion. Hope that we can still better ourselves. Fear that it’ll take a plague that wipes out 99% of our population to do so.
The Super Flu, or Captain Trips, within the confines of the book, was the mother of all plagues designed, more or less, to consume the ego of humanity. What could be done within the pages of Stephen King’s masterpiece? Not a damn thing. You died, or you didn’t die. That is all. There were no preparations to be made. No magic cure. No vaccine. No decontamination. The world ended and there was nothing America (as is the focus of the book) could do about it. With all our plans, our designs of purpose and political gain, the world (via The Stand) slipped comfortably into chaos, lashing out at times with cruel attempts to maintain control. I recall reading through the opening chapters and thinking, “Why didn’t the government warn people?” Thinking about it now, what could they say? News was already spreading. Hope seemed like a cheap sale to most, others gladly took it and clung to it. Not to sound to villainous, but these were the best parts of the book, watching people react, both good and bad, in the face of catastrophe. This is more or less the same reason why I enjoy Romero-esk zombie stories as well. Zombies are cool, but what’s even cooler is watching how people react in the face of such cataclysmic odds. What will they do? And in King’s book, after 99% of America’s population dies, what will the survives do? And what I found also interesting in this aspect was discovering the “no man is an island” concept. While this does not speak for everyone, but for the majority, we are a community based life. We are a commutative species that depends upon not just our own wits, but the wits of others too. We crave belonging. We crave companionship. We crave community or as they say “common-unity.”
In King’s epic The Stand, this basic need of common-unity is broken down into three groups. Yes, you heard me, three. The first two are easily recognized. Good, Mother Abigail and her Colorado haven. And the second, Evil, Randell Flagg’s strict Las Vegas commune. The third is not easily recognized, because it remains in the shadow, for a time. This third group are the moderates, the “silent majority,” to quote Nixon. This was the group watching the events between Abigail’s and Flagg’s group unfold. They were the quiet watchers, unsure of which group to follow, or to follow any group at all. Towards the end of the book, we begin to see this silent majority take shape as members from both Good and Evil camps begin to cut tides, searching for their own undiscovered country, their own America. This was, I think, out of concern. Like Frannie and Stu, there is an unsettling feeling watching the Bolder community grow and expand and mutate back into some symbolism of what America had once looked like. But wasn’t the old America, the old ways the same ways in which brought about Captain Trips in the first place? The same despite need for control and the terrifying escalation in which that desire ultimately brings?
So, in a way, you can say that The Stand is basically about the death of all certainty, for nothing can be for certain, and what life would look like or could look like in the aftermath.
Just like most of King’s stories, The Stand was a character infused story driven by situation. His characters are some of the most real personas found within the pages of pop culture. Some I enjoyed more than others. Nick Andros was entertaining to read, though he was a bit naive. Stu Redman was also a favorite, being a Texan and all. There was also Larry Underwood, Glen Bateman (for some reason, I always picture Ben Franklin when reading the bits with Glen), and I even liked the more so-called wicked characters, both Harold and Trash were both favorites, though more or less pitied. I was not really a fan of Frannie Goldsmith. I found her to be actually rather annoying in the story. My all time favorite character by far was Mr. Tom Cullen. I’m not sure if that’s an odd character to hang your hat on. Cullen certainly did not play a pivotal role in the opening or even middle acts. Though he is there in the those transitions, his character becomes more important later on in the final stages of King’s apocalyptic play. And by apocalypse, I mean not the obvious understanding (doom and gloom), but rather, the literal Greek definition, the “unveiling of knowledge,” the lifting of the veil, so-to-speak. In this, Tom Cullen is strangely gifted. His character, at first glance is obvious thin layered, or so he seems. Being a mentally challenged character, we may have a tendency to quickly dismiss him as a simple persona. However, there are layers to Tom, more than meets the eye, as they say. He has a power, and not just in prophesy, but also in faith. Tom has an unadulterated faith in the goodness of people. Child-like, almost. And certainly a quality worth respecting in our adult haggard age.
My Rating: 5/5
Often called The Hemingway of Horror, Thomas S. Flowers secludes away to create character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was soon published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books and hosts a gambit of guest writers who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow from Thomas at a safe distance by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
Drearily this past week, we were privy to our first taste of authors contributing to The Black Room Manuscripts regarding their favorite books. When it comes to writing, one must read. No, seriously. To showcase a range of talent, you have to be a “prolific reader.” Not only in our own genre of choice but also in other genres. And when it comes to horror writers, we are often found to have a wide assortment of favorite books we like to keep on our shelves. Research for knowledge and information we can tap into to help shape our own stories. So to keep things interesting and to be a bit villainess, I’ve asked my guests to tell us what their two favorite books are and why. That’s right. You heard me. Only two!!! (laughs manically). So, without further ado, here is D.K. Ryan
When Thomas S. Flowers asked me to name my two favourite books and why, it was the same as asking which of my children I love best.
Being the owner of close to four thousand books, along with a growing collection on my Kindle, the question is anything but simple. My reading life started out with horror, but along the way I’ve also enjoyed many, Thrillers, Crime, Sci-Fi and Fantasy, the latter of which I love almost as much as the blood and gore that regularly slips through my fingers.
So how does a person wean out a possible two from such an enormous collection? Well. I have to be practical, I have to be honest, and more than anything, I have to take you right back to where it all started. I could have sat back and chosen horror all day long to fill this very short list but if I did that I’d be a fake and the actual reason for my choices would never be known.
As I said above, my reading life started late, nineteen to be exact, and using a book for anything other than to prop up a wonky leg on a table seemed ridiculous and certainly a waste of time, for a young party animal like myself.
Then something strange happened. My brother, who was the total opposite and found joy sitting for hours in his own head, left a copy of James Herbert’s, The Dark on a chair in our bedroom. Thinking that I could use it for no good, I picked it up and for whatever reason, I opened it and started to read. Over the next few hours, the horror within, ignited something. The scenes that were obviously fictitious, didn’t matter, because to me they were real, and I wanted more. My arrogance had completely disappeared along with my ignorance, and in their place, a revelation took place, one, I’m pleased to say, has never left. I became a person who looked at books the same way my brother did, using them to transport me off to different lands and for a long time, the outside world failed to exist. So for that reason, The Dark is the first of my two.
The second is again down to my brother. He became my unofficial go to guy when I wanted something new to read. It had become like a drug. Nothing else could satisfy my cravings more than paper and words. This time it was Terry Brooks who shared his work with the recently converted.
In 1986 he released a book called, Kingdom for sale, his first in what was to become the Landover series, about a Chicago lawyer, who’s lost his way and is bored with life and where it’s taking him. He comes across an advert claiming a kingdom is being sold for the sum of one million dollars. Ben, (the lawyer) has lost his wife and unborn child in a car accident and with nothing to lose takes up the offer to buy and rule this magical kingdom.
This book for me, held something more than, The Dark. It combined both real world and fantasy world, and the struggles of a skeptic, coming to terms with his loss while at the same time asking himself if he really ‘has’ lost it and needs to be locked up for good.
I’m pleased to say that I’ve accumulated quite a collection of Terry Brooks’s work, as well as James Herbert. There are so many more books I could have chosen, and in time I hope to share them all. For now, a more fitting question would have been to name my top one hundred. But Thomas is a writer of horror and somewhat twisted himself, hence the difficult task of naming just two.
Though, I’m happy to say, that what this has done is take me back and remember how those two books made me feel. They made me feel comfortable, and in a sense, relieved, that I’d finally found something, in reading that is as strong today as it was in a quiet bedroom reading, The Dark.
I want to thank D.K. Ryan for taking the time and letting us know a bit about his favorite two books and the history behind his choices. D.K. Ryan is the author of two Zombie Rodent Tales (Egor and the Cruise Ship Nasty, and Egor and the Ouzo Taverna) and a soon to be re-released novel, Family Perfect. But D.K. Ryan is probably best known for his spectacular work on Dead as Hell Horror Podcast with his book review segment, Paper cuts. D.K. Ryan also co-pilots Horror Worlds, a site dedicated to helping promote up and coming horror authors.