A creative effort takes horror to new heights in well-paced, semi-interconnected stories.
Novelist, short story author and poet Bailey’s (Phoenix Rose, 2009) first novel, a finalist in the Independent Publisher Book Awards for horror fiction, is contemporary literary horror, an energizing departure from gothic or romantic pastiche and genre favorites of witches, creatures and demonic spirits. Bailey’s horror is family drama, where both compassionate and abusive relationships anchor characters in environments that are at best uncertain and often harrowing and cruel. In unusually symbolic prose that may attract or repel genre enthusiasts, the book’s six parts tell of a young father’s struggle with suicide, the violent source of a couple’s marital dysfunction, superlative child abuse in an orphanage, a psychiatrist treating a paranormal patient and school-aged friends thwarting a bully. The book’s strengths are its suspense, the subtle way the narratives connect through chance and the peripheral appearance of a young woman named Julie. Bailey has a good sense of timing and when plot should accelerate; the suspense is palpable and enjoyable, even when the story is gruesome. Despite the different situations of his characters, most voices come across as vaguely post-adolescent and male—impetuous, reactionary and overly concerned with sex and bodily functions. There’s a lot of talk of bed-wetting and toned, lascivious young women like Julie, whose name also appears in emboldened text throughout the book. The reader is intended to pull a sixth story, that of Julie and her daughter, “Palindrome Hannah,” from this text. However, this is nearly impossible, as the text is a pronoun-heavy syntactical forest, with ideas continuing across tens of pages. Bailey’s literary creativity is an exciting turn for the genre, but it bears too heavily on the book. Infusing a story with palindromes can be flashy in short form, but drawn-out in a novel, it feels washed out and contributes little to the storytelling. In naming his book after a thin plot device and thinner character, Bailey seems to not know his own strengths.
Ignoring part six, Bailey’s book will remind readers of human connectivity, while it frightens and entertains.