I’m a huge fan of the SyFy channel show, Face Off. Make-up and special effects artists compete. They body paint, make prosthetics and appliances to create characters or tableaus. I have just enough artistic ability to appreciate the skill and creativity it takes to do what the competitors do. I can’t get enough of watching artists at work. This week’s challenge: Create a movie villain based on a phobia. The top creations were based on odontophobia (fear of teeth) and parasitophobia (fear of parasites). Other than the technical and creative superiority of the winners, I think the phobias themselves played into the judge’s opinions. I mean, who isn’t at least a tad concerned about their teeth? Who doesn’t get squirmy and creeped out by parasites?
Of course, the way my mind works, it got me to thinking about why I read horror novels. More specifically, why some scare the snot out of me and others don’t. I read a lot of horror novels because they’re fun. I like being grossed out. I like action. I like thrills and chills. I like horror-comedy because it taps into my inner teenager. But most horror novels don’t scare me. They don’t tap into my deepest fears and make me uneasy.
Some do. The scariest novel I ever read wasn’t even a horror novel, it was, 1984, by George Orwell. The scariest movie I’ve ever seen? Invasion of the Body Snatchers (actually both versions, 1956 and 1978, scared the snot out of me). What do they have in common? Mindlessness.
Mindlessness scares me. I’d like to say it’s not a phobia and the fear doesn’t affect my life. Except… it does. I hate crowds, especially crowds in enclosed places. I’m suspicious to the point of hostility about bureaucracies. Ditto for politicians who use mindlessness as a tool to increase their power. Every time I have a brain fart, I think, Oh God! Alzheimer’s! So, yeah, maybe I am a bit phobic.
The story: Wump Hozer, a 65-year-old handyman, is mourning the death of his son. He blames the local tannery for polluting the water and causing his son’s leukemia. That leads him to sabotaging a water pipe, which exposes the town’s nastiest, darkest secret: Dead children. A lot of them. The dead babies, the tannery, the local Catholic church are all tied in to a much larger, much more far-reaching scheme to bring about Armageddon.
One would think the Armageddon angle would be the most unsettling element. Not for me. That’s well done, but the really scary part is the mindlessness that drove over a hundred families to murder their first born children. As a mother, as a thinking human being, it’s revolting. Worse, it could happen. That Bauer created a cast of sympathetic characters who, with the exception of one or two, truly believed they were doing the RIGHT THING, maybe recognizing their own evil on some level, but so caught up in mindlessness they couldn’t help themselves, that’s what scared the piss out of me.
Bauer also happens to be a very good writer who has created some wonderful characters, layered and complex and often unexpected. I suspect he will end up on my list of writers to read for the pleasure of the way he uses language and brings scenes to life.
Sister and me shared a small belly laugh. I lifted myself off the grass onto one elbow and she helped me to another sip of the schnapps. Father chuckled too, but it seemed he was only humoring up because his mouth kept his smile and stayed open, even after he stopped laughing. He was eying my truck parked out front, and the puzzled look he was giving its low-riding, tool-filled rear end made me think something or the other had just dawned on him. Either that or he wanted to head home pronto. I tossed him my keys.
“Here, Father, my head still hurts. Hope you can drive a stick.”
While Leo handed me tools I learned his best buddy Raymond was feeling more poorly than usual from the leukemia. Raymond would have some good days in between a lot of bad days, I told Leo. Just like my son.
“Raymond’s just resting up,” Leo said, as he handed me some nails. “He wants to be strong for the end of the week. Sister Dimple’s got us helping with the Easter pageant and other stuff.” His lower lip quivered a bit. “He’s been sick so he just, like, you know, needs to rest up.”
Oh my. Leo’s eyes were misting; I patted him on the shoulder. “It’ll be all right, son. Raymond’s a fighter, I’m sure.”
“Yep. A really good fighter, Wump. He just needs some rest is all.”
My only gripe with this novel is the rather unfortunate title, which made perfect sense after reading the novel, but if I’d been merely browsing, I’d have skimmed right over it. Which would have made me miss out on a really good book.
So come on, readers, be brave. Confess your fears and phobias. What kind of stories really scare you?
Discovered: via an email from the author
Purchased: Amazon ebook, January 30, 2012, $2.99