“Ex Libris The Eyes of Madness, simple reviews from a simple reader…”
Zakk reviews the Coming-of-Age Summer Horror Tour 2016 (*I made this up, wink) featuring:
Of Foster Homes and Flies by Chad Lutzke, 162 pages published by Scary Carpet July 22, 2016.
Jedi Summer: with the Magnetic Kid by John Boden, 76 pages published by Post Mortem Press July 22, 2016.
Odd Man Out by James Newman, 94 pages published Bloodshot Books November 21, 2016. Originally published in a limited edition by Thunderstorm Books.
What is it about a dark coming of age read that is so satisfying? Is it the nostalgia factor, the magic of being whisked back through the memories of your own youth? Is it the charm of viewing the world from the eyes of a character not yet exposed to the horrors of the world (and not the global horrors of war, famine, but the intimate horrors of love & loss)? Name an author, any author, and ask around about their most adored books. More than likely it’ll be one of their Coming-of-Age pieces getting the most name drops. King’s IT & The Body, McCammon’s Boys Life (I know, I need to read this one), Simmons’ Summer of Night, Koontz’ The Watchers (that counts, right?).
Whatever the draw to Coming-of-age horror, it is a reveled way to spend an afternoon. 2016 saw the release of many COA dark fiction pieces and here are three that released at round about the same time, almost as if they were in tour together. Allow me to present the Coming-Of-Age Summer Horror Tour 2016.
And away we go…
Of Foster Homes and Flies
A neglected 12-year-old boy does nothing to report the death of his mother in order to compete in a spelling bee. A tragic coming-of-age tale of horror and drama in the setting of a hot New Orleans summer.
“It was always at night, the abuse. And sometimes, late at night, when up and out of her chair, while I was long into sleep, she’d apologize the only way her drunken pride allowed–with blueberry Pop-Tarts, my favorite. I’ll wake for school to two of them toasted and then several hours cooled, neatly stacked on a paper plate in the middle of the dining room table. The only meal she ever ‘cooks.’ I’ll admit, at times I begrudgingly break them into pieces and feed them to Ingrid as she sits on the lap of my sleeping mother. And then I’ll go to school hungry and resentful.”
Kicking off the Coming-of-age summer is Chad Lutzke’s Of Foster Homes and Flies. A quiet and sincere bit of dark storytelling. I have Chad pegged as notorious for penning homegrown, dimensional horror yarns. With solid storytelling and depth of character as a payoff more so than sporadic twists and gratuitous violence. A Lutzke yarn doesn’t need a surprise ending or gushing splatter to send a story home because the connection has been made on page one and delivered throughout the piece, with an endings that are a natural extension of the events preceding.
And Of Foster Homes and Flies holds true to that. It’s an authentic, real-world type of scare that tugs on the feels and it is sold 100% by Denny, an honest main character with relatable motivations. He is the exception to the belief that “a little boy’s best friend is alway his mom”. He makes questionable choices, but they’re for a purpose, and who doesn’t make these kind of choices in the developing years. Given the circumstances, and the drive behind it, it fits.
Of Foster Homes and Flies is a charming read, dealing with adolescent loss in a tangible way. It is dark without being bleak, gross but not more so than it needs to be, and quite possibly my favorite Lutzke work to date.
It’s a read that I would gladly recommend.
Overall score: 5/ 5
Jedi Summer with the Magnetic Kid
1983: A boy and his little brother wander through a loosely stitched summer. A summer full of sun and surrealism, Lessons of loss and love. Of growing up and figuring it out. Nestled in the mountains of Pennsylvania is a small town, it’s not like the others. Things are strange there- people die but hang around, pets too. Everyone knows your name and sometimes, a thing as simple as a movie coming to the local theatre, is all it takes to keep you going.
“I hated that I had to go there every other weekend to do the same shit I could do at home. I got mad at my dad for just sitting around and watching sports that I had no interest in. If I knew then how fickle life was and that one day I’d be sitting in that very room, holding my father’s hand as he died, things would have been very different. I would have happily sat through every goddamn baseball game, every weekend for a hundred summers.”
In Jedi Summer, John Boden ushers in a touchingly autobiographical (at least somewhat, I believe) piece with a heavy dose of nostalgia. While less of an outright horror yarn, it delivers on the coming-of-age angle in a big way by immediately escorting the reader to the reflection of their youth and the anticipation of what you feel will be a pinnacle moment. Anyone growing up in the original Star Wars era will catch this on an even deeper level.
The connection between the main characters, brothers Johnny & Roscoe, is magical and honest. There is a deep kinship on display and a love that flows off of the page. The characters on the page feel like real life boys and their bond shows.
There are some dark angles poking out here and there, with one scene in particular that shook me, it’s tragic and haunting, also fascinating. You’ll feel it when you get there and it’ll stick with you for a little while.
John Boden is a crafty and adept writer. I am not extremely well versed with his work, but the few pieces of his that I have read have varied in tone and style. With the commonality being that they have all been highly entertaining. Jedi Summer follows suit. It personifies to a tee what it feels like to grow up, or at least what I felt like growing up. And like those youthful summers of so long ago, I wasn’t ready for it to end.
Recommended if you want a charming exploration of the feels.
Overall score: 5/ 5
Odd Man Out
WELCOME TO THE BLACK MOUNTAIN CAMP FOR BOYS!
Summer,1989. It is a time for splashing in the lake and exploring the wilderness,for nine teenagers to bond together and create friendships that could last the rest of their lives.
But among this group there is a young man with a secret–a secret that,in this time and place,is unthinkable to his peers.
When the others discover the truth,it will change each of them forever. They will all have blood on their hands.
ODD MAN OUT is a heart-wrenching tale of bullies and bigotry,a story that explores what happens when good people don’t stand up for what’s right. It is a tale of how far we have come . . . and how far we still have left to go.
“They say the human brain will often block out a traumatic experience, store it someplace deep in the subconscious where it can’t do you any more harm. Like a dangerous animal locked inside a cage.”
Ahh, the closer, James Newman’s Odd Man Out, a gnarly bit of fiction. I’ve been hooked on James Newman brand fiction for a little while now and the man never fails to pack a punch. And this is no slouch. Odd Man Out is a fantastic read, horribly uncomfortable and a fist straight to the throat. There are coming-of-age yarns that transport you back to the magic of your own youthful summers, then there’s Odd Man Out, the type of COA piece that makes you worry about what trials and tribulations your children will face as they grow, mature and weave their own tale.
It is a poignant piece that beautifully, heavily, reflects the current climate of harsh insensitivity, intolerance, and hyper-escalation towards violence & audience. It is harsh and heartbreaking. This is potentially what my children could be facing in their summers and I can’t help but wonder and fear for what side they’ll fall on, what choices will they make. It honestly scares the shit out of me.
Odd Man Out is required reading. It will move you, haunt you, and linger in your subconscious. Expect this to be on my year end Best-Of list.
Overall score: 5/ 5
Thank you so much (insert city name here)! You’ve been wonderful. This is definately the best crowd I’ve ever reviewed for and I’ll make sure to come back next time. Thank you dark continent, GOOD NIGHT!
Zakk is a big dumb animal!
Chad Lutzke –
Chad lives in Battle Creek, MI. with his wife and children where he works as a medical language specialist. For over two decades, he has been a contributor to several different outlets in the independent music and film scene including articles, reviews, and artwork. Chad loves music, rain, sarcasm, dry humor, and cheese. He has a strong disdain for dishonesty and hard-boiled eggs. He has written for Famous Monsters of Filmland, Rue Morgue and Scream magazine. He is a regular contributor to Horror Novel Reviews, Halloween Forevermore and Heavy Planet. His fictional work can be found in several magazines and anthologies including his own 18-story anthology anthology, NIGHT AS A CATALYST.
John Boden –
John Boden lives a stones throw from Three Mile Island with his wonderful wife and sons.
A baker by day, he spends his off time writing, working on Shock Totem or watching M*A*S*H re-runs.
He likes Diet Pepsi, cheeseburgers, heavy metal and sports ferocious sideburns.
James Newman –
James Newman is the author of a diverse selection of horror and suspense tales, dark fiction told with a distinct Southern voice and more often than not with a hint of pitch-black humor. His published novels include MIDNIGHT RAIN, THE WICKED, ANIMOSITY, and UGLY AS SIN. When he’s not writing, he enjoys watching horror movies (and showing off what he knows about the genre with the recent release of his first NONfiction book: 666 HAIR-RAISING HORROR MOVIE TRIVIA QUESTIONS), listening to loud rock n’ roll, and even dabbling in some stage-acting every now and then.
In real life, James lives in the mountains of North Carolina with his wife and their two sons.