Friday
Dec052014

The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World

By Brian Allen Carr


 

Lazy Fascist Press
May 2014
978-1621051466

Reviewed by Gabino Iglesias


 

Brian Allen Carr's The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World starts out as a somewhat hilarious homage to the idiosyncrasies of small town living on the Texas-Mexico border and quickly morphs into one of the strangest and most unabashedly folklore-rich narratives in modern horror fiction. Carr, whose prose always shifts between that of a madman and a prophet, places the reader in a small town where not much happens and then brings a series of Mexican legends to life to deliver mayhem and death. Walking the line between a character study, a slight deconstruction of poverty, sex, and racism, and a fast-paced celebration of terror, this narrative packs a lot in its slim 128 pages.

Scrape, Texas, is a small border town in the middle of nowhere. The people living there dream of leaving and outside visitors are few and far between. The town's population is trapped in a perennial state of stagnation and everyone spends their days talking on porches, drinking, fishing, smoking, shooting things, and having sex. Unfortunately for them, their usual boredom is shattered by a plague of monsters straight out of Mexican horror stories. First comes La Llorona, the screaming woman in white who's doomed to wander for eternity looking for her children. She crosses the town with a horde of dead children behind her, children who single-mindedly walk even after folks start shooting them down. Then come the black, hairy hands. Like fast spiders with deadly nails and inhuman strength, they crawl over everything and can scratch flesh into oblivion in a few seconds. After the hands are gone, El Abuelo shows up with his bullwhip and his questions, and no one has the right answers. For the few left alive, something even worse is waiting, and it is far more evil than anything that came before.

Carr is a master of economy of language, but using few words to convey a lot is only the beginning. The writing here is quick, oftentimes funny, and smart, but also elegant and attentive to detail. It's as if Carr obsessed over each line's rhythm, its contribution to the story and flow, and discarded everything that wasn't outstanding. The dialogue delivers most of the humor and the portions where Carr's omniscient narration takes over are delivered with a stylish prose that brings to mind both philosophy and the eloquent and fiery sermons of a Southern preacher. The result of this fusion of styles is a book that can be read in one sitting but that forces readers to take their time in order to savor each line, to enjoy the meticulous use of language and how it leads to paragraphs that move forward with incredible ease.

Pandemonium invades the narrative quickly, and Carr holds nothing back in order to communicate the degree of destruction that befalls Scrape the second La Llorona's wail is heard:

Aquariums flood open, and tropical fish wriggle on carpets, their gills aching in search of breath, their tails clapping them about. The temperature rises. In the diner, the butter melts in its foil wrap on the tables, and the ice in Blue Parson's cooler thins to water. Every leaf from every tree limb drops, and the helicopter seeds chop their single bladed flight haphazardly.

While the whole town suffers from the arrival of these scary beings, the story focuses on a group of young friends and an old racist hillbilly. They all understand how they're landlocked and want to move on, but they also accept their immediate reality and try to make the best of it with the help of aimless wandering, cold beer, a bit of weed, and each other's company. More than mere casualties, Carr uses the ethnically diverse members of the group as vehicles to explore small-town mentality, prejudice, and friendship. With a mix of humor and gore, Carr sometimes lets his characters tell the story, and that variety of voices makes the narrative even more interesting while also helping readers establish a rapport with these individuals. Then, when the bad stuff comes, it's almost impossible not to care, especially given the author's knack for creepiness:  

Hands. Thousands, millions, scurrying on fingers like spiders or crabs. Only hands. Black, coarse hair covering them. Fingernails sharp and long. They move flicker quick over parked cars, across roof tops. They break glass, smash mailboxes, toss broken bits of Scrape to and fro, willy nilly.

After all the madness and death, the novel's end might initially strike the reader as abrupt, but when the text's digestion commences, it's obvious that this was a playful, quick read with a healthy dose of social commentary sprinkled in. The only reason the end seems a tad out of place is because the novel jumps out of the horror genre so many times that an ending that would make immediate sense in that genre seems an ill fit here.

The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World is definitely a genre novel and contains plenty of passages that fit perfectly into the preconceived spaces of horror fiction. However, the novel is much more. For starters, Carr digs into a different culture and brings those nightmares to this side of the border. Also, this is a genre narrative where the brilliant prose crosses into literary territory. Regardless of what you choose to call it, this is an outstanding novel whose brevity doesn't detract from its depth and capacity to entertain.