Book Review by Zakary McGaha
In Zebra Summer, Zakary McGaha (author of Locker Arms and Soothing the Savage Swamp Beast), chronicles a very specific portion of his summer reading schedule: horror novels published by Zebra Books.
For my second installment of Zebra Summer, I’m going to be discussing a book that, for the most part, I’ve already forgotten.
That’s not to say that it was a bad novel…there was just too much meaningless stuff thrown around the story. For me to say that is weird, however. I love flowery writing; I love detail; I HATE minimalism, except in rare cases.
I’m a Faulkner type of dude, as opposed to a Hemingway one.
Anyway, Deadly Nature by V.M. Thompson, who wrote a total of four books for Zebra (with the last two under the pseudonym T.J. Kirby) is a novel that has a lot of great things going for it, but it’s simply too long.
Once, in high school, I attempted to read this sucker, but ended up trading it in before finishing it. Flash forward to now, and I managed to get…and I’m ninety-nine percent sure of this…the SAME copy back from the same bookstore.
I couldn’t stay away from it. The qualities in it that are good drew me back.
Upon finishing it, I was actually satisfied. It’s flawed in many ways, but it’s fits the so-bad-it’s-good cliché to a tee…except for the fact that it takes a lot of time to get through.
I found myself not wanting to read it while I was reading it, and that’s because so much time is spent on Leave it to Beaver shit: this novel has sentimentality oozing from every page (even the ones where mutant animals are attacking people).
Small-town horror isn’t for everyone, because, in a lot of ways, it isn’t realistic. But, in another way, that draws people to it. The quaintness of the lives of the simple, small-town characters that populate these types of novels make for either: a). a cozy reading experience, or b). a fucking boring one. I’ve experienced both within this subgenre, and, as you’ve probably guessed, I’d say Deadly Nature falls into the latter category, although it has some shining moments.
Without spoiling anything, I will say that the “quaintness” of these characters’ lives definitely doesn’t prepare them for the horror that awaits them, but to say V.M. Thompson overdid it would be an understatement. You could easily excise every quaint passage from this book, and you’d have a whole novel, albeit a boring one, with the rest left over as a short story.
The “scary” parts of this novel are pretty good, although for a long time they’re underplayed, but this didn’t necessarily bother me. I love extreme horror, but I also love quiet horror. I’ve read novels with a lot less “action” than Deadly Nature and have loved them, because their other, more cognitive qualities superseded anything that mere “action” could have achieved. The problem, then, with Deadly Nature, is that there simply isn’t anything else to sink your canines into.
Deadly Nature is a novel full of fluff, in other words. Too much of nothing is going on. The small themes that do exist (Them sceintists better not mess with nature, because they might create somethin’ that they don’t want and that’s evil) would have been fine, had the story been fun, but it’s too bogged down with, as mentioned, nothing.
That’s not to say that the novel is unreadable, though. It simply takes patience. When things do get going, they get going pretty heavily. The good stuff that is there makes me want to read this author’s other stuff. This is the first novel V.M. Thompson published, so I’m sure there’s some improvement to be seen.
Be sure to check back for the next installment. You can’t talk about Zebra without discussing Ruby Jean Jensen! Stay tuned…