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Book Review

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Author: Suzy Pearce
Publisher: Independent
141 pages
RRP: £8.15
ISBN: 979 863404 214 5
Publication Date: 04 April 2020

The protagonist of Suzy Pearce’s horror novel is Laura, just finished with the sixth grade, uprooted from her familiar neighbourhood and school to live in an upscale suburb where yards have no fences and she has no friends. Her mother’s new husband is a nice enough but insufficient presence and her mother seems preoccupied with making their new home work.

That includes Laura fitting in with nice friends which seems impossible for this contemplative twelve year old alienist. The abyss of loneliness is her psychic dwelling place, both refuge and prison cell.

The boys in the park are bullies and knob head attackers. Laura retreats further, into herself and her upstairs bedroom. But out in the back, where the forest thickens, a girl appears and actually waves to Laura. She tries to run out and find her but the girl runs into the woods at super human speed and can’t be found -- only to appear right beside her. Her name is Ophelia and thus begins Pearce’s extra-dimensional adventure that could cost Laura everything, even more than her life. Ophelia is a siren from another world right next door in a parallel world that is exciting and powerful, creepy and deceitfully malevolent, like a vine-bound mausoleum.

Laura’s loneliness is her susceptibility. Her loyalty to “her best friend ever” is both intoxication and true relational principle. And it is relationships that Laura must come to grips with here. Relationships call for risk and responsibility. Their laminations, depths and demands. Both these qualities are a microscopic exam into herself. The trick is learning the lessons and surviving to relate another day.

Ophelia’s world is a welcome mat of exhilaration and attractive friends. Finding where the truth lies is Laura’s crisis. Fatality on the coroner’s slab is a concrete reality, but I daren’t say more and be a spoiler. Suffice it to say we care about Laura. Pearce’s prose is deft, like a cat walking across onionskin paper, leaving no trace of track or passage. We are just suddenly there, as the old bards would say, in the twinkle of an eye. Her style reminds me of the no-nonsense haiku efficiency of Mary McCarthy or even more, Dijuna Barnes. A fem-Hemingway leanness with not a carbo of sugar or canola nor the show-off acrobatics of Donna Tart nor, dare I say, the bloated aerobic self consciousness of Stephen King. Her prose elides us into identification, suspension of disbelief and suspense like a sled over night-time snow. It’s easy to care about Laura. It’s easy to like her. It’s easy to be concerned when she’s losing more than everything we think everything is. We can think this when wounds and eyes flow but instead of blood and tears, with black tar.

Toxic teases with promise of a sequel. I think any pro involved with property acquisition should give this book and its author some close attention. If you do and think I’m wrong, well… I bet you don’t.


John Huff

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