Haunted Honeymoon

Book Review: Just Like Hell – Author Nate Southard

JUST LIKE HELL

Author Nate Southard
Published by Thunderstorm Books
Publication Date: 2008
Format: Black /White – 98 pages
Price: $10.95

“There would be no going to the police afterward. What he wanted to do could not be considered self-defense. He would not be a hero.

But he would be a survivor.

And he would feel some measure of justice.”

Just imagine you are Dillon, the all American dream, the type of guy every red-blooded, testosterone stoked masculine maley-male wants his son to grow up to be. He’s the star of his high school football team, has helped lead them to a monster of a season and has four scholarship offers to choose from. He also has a secret that would be more than enough to get him disowned by that same maley-male. But we don’t know all of that at page one. What we do know is that he’s trapped in the trunk of a car with a sock-gag in his mouth and his lover beaten and unconscious next to him. You see, some of his teammates know his little secret and he has reason to expect that they won’t just give him a noogie and sent him on his way. A hell of a night is in store for Dillon and it is more than a bit of a rough ride on the reader as well.

Where this story really flexes its muscles is in the reality of the situation. The monster here isn’t hairy, or fanged or the relentless undead, it is the guy right down the block, the one the television box keeps saying we should all want to be like. Attractive, successful in the right things, strong, good with the ladies and not a lick of pity for them damn homer-sexuals. Hell, for much of this country, it is US. What happens within these pages should be called unimaginable, but things like it have happened too many times in real life. Just ask Mathew Shepard or the wonderfully sensitive “Christians” who picketed his funeral.

Southard approaches this tale in a lean, straight forward style similar to Richard Matheson. His eye is unflinching, uncompromising and nowhere is there a nice, flowery bit of prose to hide behind. It is as ugly, sweaty and brutal as it needs to be when dealing with a subject like this. I have to respect the fact that he never lets himself slip, never lets the reader get off easy with a simple, light read. Hell, he never lets the reader catch a breath through the whole thing. It is this pace and power that saves what is, at its heart, a pretty basic rape-revenge story in the vein of I Spit on Your Grave. It comes in, beat the crap out of you and then leaves.

Unfortunately, it is also that same style and approach that proves to be its biggest failing point to me. I guess I am a bit jaded, but violence and an ugly situation are simply not enough for me. Because we are tossed right into the action, I never had a chance to get any sense of the protagonist as a person or form any bond with him. I get the feeling that he is supposed to have my sympathy purely because he and his boyfriend are on the receiving end of the horror. Instead, I found myself more curious about the mental plight of Toby, the friend that was drug into this mess thinking that it would be nothing more than a spirited game of beat-on-the-fag or what life must be like for Dillon after all this is over. I get the point that is being made, but it doesn’t really have any kind of emotional resonance with me. Worse, once the vengeance part kicks in, I found myself losing interest completely.

I can’t help comparing this to Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door (Brian Keene certainly did when he gave it to me) and it doesn’t quite measure up. Southard’s cold, clinical detachment allows you to see this ugliness from the outside and wag your finger at the bad, bad man committing it, unlike Ketchum who managed to put the reader in the place of someone tempted to join in and forced to live with that knowledge. With that in mind, this story comes across almost safe.

Still, being even within shouting range of what I personally consider to be one of the great novels of the later 20th century ain’t too bad and he certainly has my attention. Check out the dude’s blog and maybe buy some stuff from him at www.natesouthard.com.

“It was then that I realized that it all was wrong, that it all had to change, and that change had to start with me.” -Utah Phillips

Available at ThunderStorm Books
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About Anton Cancre

Anton Cancre is one of those rotting, pus-filled thingies on the underside of humanity that your mother always warned you about. He has oozed symbolic word-farms onto the pages of DEAD SOULS, THE GHOST IS THE MACHINE and D.O.A. II as well as continuing to vomit his oh-so-astute literary opinions, random thoughts and nonsense at antoncancre.blogspot.com. No, he will most definitely not watch your pet shoggoth this weekend, but he is interested in taking that new brain case for a spin through the cosmos.
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