ONE BLOODY THING AFTER ANOTHER
By Joey Comeau
Whether it’s part of an attempt to provide tonal balance or just being used as a moral fig leaf, there’s usually a sweetness at the heart of most horror fiction. One sees it most clearly in Stephen King, a writer capable of very disturbing effects but one who also subscribes to a basic faith in providence and the ultimate goodness of the universe. It may be a long, rough ride, but his novels typically sign off with a happy ending.
The same spirit of sentimental gore, albeit with a bit of a twist, infuses Toronto writer Joey Comeau’s bizarrely effective (and, it should be said, beautifully designed) horror novel One Bloody Thing After Another. The story begins with Ann’s mother transforming into a flesh-eating Wendigo woman, a change heralded by some grisly projectile vomiting. As the title suggests, things continue to go to hell in a bobsled from there. Ann’s mother is kept chained in the basement and sustained on a diet of whatever her daughters can forage from their urban environment (a warning for all of us keep our pets on a leash). This situation puts a crimp in a budding romantic relationship between Ann and her schoolmate Jackie, a girl who has the power to summon the spirit of her own dead mother from beyond the grave. Indirectly related to all of this is an old man haunted by a corpse that carries its leaking head around like a purse.
Freudian literary critics, if there are any of that vanishing species left, should find this a happy hunting-ground loaded with game. The various mother-daughter relationships play out against a tense backdrop of guilt, budding sexuality, and repression. Wombs turn into hungry bellies, and one notices Comeau’s odd fascination with mouths: distorted by rows of jagged teeth, drooling black blood, and spewing vomit all over the place.
And yet for all the violence and unsettling imagery we feel a real sympathy for these characters, in large part because it is their sympathy for others that leads to so much trouble. Family ties, those bonds whose dissolution King has made so central to his oeuvre, here become a deadly kind of trap. Blood really is thicker than water.
The ironic conclusion, wherein “Everyone gets their happy ending,” comes with a twist. Without giving anything away, Comeau’s vision of an afterlife reunited with the Mother is darkly ambiguous. Indeed it’s hard to tell just how seriously Comeau wants us to take any of this – whether it’s meant to be mere entertainment, or a profound meditation on loss (and cannibalism). But taken simply as a fast-paced, fragmented tale of terror, it’s bloody good.
Review first published online January 10, 2011.