Any fan or critic of commercial, conventional or literary horror can attest to reading through a wide variety of different themes, genres and styles. Each can be as unique as the author itself. Few writers in the horror business can disagree that the ultimate achievement will be to craft a tale that terrifies a universal audience.
Fears can vary on a wide spectrum both rational and irrational. We all have something we’re afraid of. If an author captures our primal fear, tweaks it and casts it back into our trembling faces, then by golly they’ve done a bang up job and should be commended.
Sure many writers can bedazzle us, as the reader into the story through vivid description and imagery, characters we can relate to or even a heart stammering plot. When a story teller reveals a fear so common it is one we all inevitably face, then we’re onto something special. The Nursing Home deals with everyday occurrences in that vast hour glass of time we call life.
At some point or another we all have to cope with our deteriorating parents. They’d delivered life unto us and we in return have to develop a plan for adequate care once their mental, physical and emotional faculties are not up to par to correlate with our lifestyles. Sam and Jude Grover must make a life altering decision regarding Sam’s father Morris. The consensus is to move him into Rigg’s retirement facility. Reluctantly everyone feels it is for the best except for the perpetually complacent inductee Morris of course.
Feeling betrayed, abandoned and less than an invalid Morris goes along for the drive surrendering any grasp of independence or personal freedom along the way. The family quarrels en route and once arriving at Rigg’s. Sadly no one really knows how to communicate their myriad of emotions and the arguing escalates. Upon departing Sam, Jude and son Todd are oblivious to the fact something is not quite right about The Nursing Home.
Morris fits in soon enough interacting with other residents Felix, Pauly, Marlo, Wade and Frank. Some notable comedy ensues to ease the impending tension of the community care facility as Pauly constantly gets Morris’s name wrong. The interaction between the seniors is endearing and enchanting even as we follow along with their trials and tribulations in an environment completely new to each of them. As they exchange war stories and indignities it is prevalent one of the employees, Bill is bad news with a capital B. With a reputation for intimidating, psychologically, mentally and even physically abusing the residents Bill is readily avoided at all costs.
We’re gradually introduced to additional characters Jay, Jeff, Beth and Ron. The four-some are newly hired teenage staff with minimal experience but maximum enthusiasm. Jay and Jeff are the clueless token stoners of the tale while Beth is the level headed, reliable, loyal type Ron is your standard star trek geek with hearty dose of social awkwardness. Together the clan is a welcome contrast to the decrepit and senile seniors. They portray the youth of today in uncanny fashion, emphasizing Murphy’s talent for creating realistic characters we can invest in and relate to.
Just when everyone starts adjusting to their role or situation, eerie, unexplained episodes begin to transpire. One of the residents is found deceased. This is not ordinarily unusual in an environment when people are essentially spending the last few years of life. Certain evidence points to the fact that perhaps foul play was involved.
Morris and company speculate who is responsible for the alleged murder. Jay, Jeff, Beth and Ron ponder if there is something more sinister. Even the police are dumbfounded on what exactly happened.
Soon the deaths increase at an alarming rate. Not only are the residents dropping off like flies, the staff one by one are found in one brutal blood bath after another. Are the occupants, staff and residents alike doomed to their ultimate demise? Or has Beth discovered the unholy truth behind the slayings and be the only key to stopping the grisly carnage?
James J Murphy has and The Nursing Home has all the ingredients of an irresistible devil’s food cake. Psychologically sound it preys upon the reader’s sense of wonder but furthermore their sense of impending and inevitable doom. When dealing with very real social issues of ageism and families coping with proper care for their parents the basis for this tale is perhaps as equally horrific in reality as it is in fiction.
The elderly can be portrayed in grotesque, deformed, creepy manner with their loss of control look in their eyes. It illustrates a very real shameful fear we attribute to as individuals as shameful as it may be in tow with their unpredictable behavior. The terror is equally very real to the patients or many of our elderly of today as dementia is wide spread, while their memory depreciates being completely dependable on others around them is utterly horrific and once again a very tangible fear. Murphy recognizes each of these variables and turns up the fright o’ meter to create a bona fide hair raising reading experience.
Murphy’s grasp of mystery is emphasized evolving into a who-dunnit as the body count rises with little to no traces. I particularly admire the author’s use of clues and subtle hints as to who may or may not be the killer. The final climax was a little on the disappointing side. After investing into an emotionally fuelled tale that conjures many harrowing memories of my own Nursing Home situations I felt the finale was a little flat. One would almost have the impression the conclusion was created out of haste or rushing towards a deadline or word count restraints. Even though there is no argument The Nursing Home was absolute fiction the final words were awkward and out of place. I would have preferred a more gradual build up with perhaps sporadic exposition of the Rigg Nursing Home’s past history.
When few story tellers have broached the very real fear of growing old towards our ultimate demise (with the exception of Stephen King’s The Woman in The Room) I couldn’t help but feeling disappointed and wanting more. One of L & J publishing’s marketing strategies was describing Murphy’s effort as original and unique. On many levels this novel was exceptional but regrettably with a frustrating conclusion. A sequel may clear up a lot of unfinished, incomplete business. Sequel or not I would be very interested in reading future James J. Murphy tales. This author has a very bright future in an industry submerged in darkness.
Book Review: The Nursing Home – Author James J Murphy III