Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Survivor by J.F. Gonzalez (extreme horror)

Under the guise of an extreme horror novel, author J.F. Gonzalez has managed to create, with Survivor, an emotionally resonant moral commentary on the underbelly of society, showing how the top and bottom blend until there is little or no difference anymore.

Brad and Lisa Miller are on their way to a romantic vacation (where she will announce her new pregnancy to him) when with the unwitting help of the police, Brad is arrested and Lisa is kidnapped. The kidnappers are snuff-film producers, and Lisa was the specific request of one of their best clients. She'll soon be a movie star unlike she ever imagined unless she can somehow bargain her way out, letting her maternal instinct guide the way.

But that's only the beginning. Gonzalez expands his novella Maternal Instinct into a gripping full-length novel that is better than a novella expansion has any right to be. He layers on the suspense and makes Survivor into a real page-turner, despite its horrific subject matter.

The killings put on film are graphically depicted in the prose, which will put off some readers who are more used to the tongue-in-cheek horror of Richard Laymon or Edward Lee. Gonzalez touches on the reality of the situation in a way I've previously encountered only in Jack Ketchum novels, which makes the interpersonal violence even more disturbing. He also approaches an aspect of murder rarely encountered with any depth in horror novels: the consequences. Every character's actions in Survivor have definite and unavoidable repercussions, and Gonzalez folds them all into his believable plot.

The decision Lisa makes in order to attempt her escape has perhaps the most horrifying outcome of all, the effects of which are felt throughout Survivor — much like in the best work of Gary Braunbeck — in both tangible and intangible ways. What this all adds up to is a book that impressed me far more than I expected it to, and one that I continue to think about over a year after finishing it. (I never intended to review it, but I had to get all my thoughts out and down in some organized fashion so they'd stop buzzing around my head — so here they are.)

The early part of Survivor is not as well written as what follows and contains a good deal of unnecessary repetition — something that, as a proofreader, is a real pet peeve of mine. There are also a couple of unrealistic character autobiographies (where they tell the histories of how they got in the snuff-film business) that slow down the story but do serve to make them more three-dimensional. All of the majors, however, were well drawn so that I can still picture them clearly in my mind even now.

Out of a fairly straightforward novella, J.F. Gonzalez has constructed a multilayered novel with a least three genuine surprises. Survivor can be read as simply a fast-paced and entertaining (if gruesome) horror novel, or also as a statement on family dynamics and their potential outcomes. If Gonzalez's other novels are this impressive, he will have a new fan in me.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails