Tuesday, 10 April 2018

THE CULT OF THE OBSCURE: "The Fallen Boys" By Aaron Dries

By: Mark Ambrose

Title: The Fallen Boys
Author: Aaron Dries
Published By: Black T-Shirt Books
Date Released: 15/02/2018

The Review:
If you’re a regular SLUDGELORD reader, you’re undoubtedly a fan of the “dark shit”.  Whether it’s the grime and guts and supernatural horror antics of death metal, or the graphic “there is no point to all this” nihilism of sludge and doom, you have likely spent hours, days, maybe years plumbing the depths of human suffering and depravity, either spelled out in lyrics, splattered across album covers, or translated aurally via crippling, filthy riffs and snarls.  When the crossover appeal has been particularly palpable, we’ve even offered praise to movies and comics – particularly those gritty offerings that could serve as inspiration or even be scored by our favorite metal bands.  That should serve as fair warning that with our first fiction review for THE SLUDGELORD, there’s no optimism or decency to cling to.  If anything, this nasty little opus by horror up-and-comer Aaron Dries is about as crushing a tome as any I’ve come across – there are no uplifting harmonies, no “clean vocals”, no kernel of positivity to mine.  This is hardcore horror with genuine literary heft – too heartfelt for Splatterpunk and too savage for any spinner rack at your mall book shop.  In short, it’s a perfect addition for a SLUDGELORD reader’s library.
“The Fallen Boys” opens with a terrifying home invasion and abduction – all the horrible end results are teased out, so it’s less thrilling than agonizing.  Two reprehensible maniacs secure a young woman for some greater purpose that is initially only hinted at.  In some ways, this is the most humanitarian act of the whole novel: Dries lets you back out if this wanton cruelty is too much for you, there’s one more opportunity to jump ship.  And for those who don’t like their horror steeped in realism and grim yet poetically haunting violence – I found myself drawing comparisons with the goriest passages of “Blood Meridian” – there is no shame in passing on “The Fallen Boys”.  For those who stick with it, Dries is a true master at engendering sympathy for fallible, complex characters.  Marshall and Clair Deakins, the doomed couple at the heart of the novel, are a believable couple, struggling with their withdrawn, unhappy son, Noah, and their own secrets, though they are undeniably in love.  When they’re put through unimaginable tragedy, it doesn’t seem like things can get worse; when their pain is revealed as a calculated destruction, Dries manages to descend further and further into the depths of human misery.  To go much further would spoil a masterfully told story – suffice it to say that between the acts of foreshadowing and subtle hints, and the stomach churning violence, I found myself actually muttering “Holy shit…” more times when reading this book than I have in a long while.
When Dallas Mayr, who went by the pen name Jack Ketchum, passed this year, a small but significant number of readers mourned the passing of a sometimes unsung literary horror genius.  With stories like “Off Season” and “The Girl Next Door”, he practically invented the American wing of “hardcore horror” writing (sometimes called Splatterpunk).  But that gives short shrift to Ketchum’s talents; his protagonists were as human, as flawed, as sympathetic as any I’ve encountered.  But the human monstrosities who spread pain and sorrow like a plague were some of the most hateful creations I’ve ever encountered.  Sure, they have their own internal logic to their misdeeds, like any genuine sociopath, but their sadism, their irredeemable selfishness, their cruelties make them archetypal villains you rarely encounter outside supernatural fiction.  The two villains at the heart of “The Fallen Boys” stand alongside any of Ketchum’s creations – one possessed by selfish stupidity, the other by inhuman sadism, but both without a hope in hell of salvation.  With Mayr’s passing, Aaron Dries may be the next poet laureate of pitch black horror fiction.  His complex plotting, heartless execution, and expertly drawn characters are enviable for writers of any genre.  His status as “genre writer” may cause some literary tryhards to look elsewhere, but those who can stomach the misery and pain, the wanton violence, those who excavate darkness in all media will recognize the burgeoning talent Mr. Dries exemplifies in The Fallen Boys.  To those who choose to plumb the depths with me – my apologies and I wish you a speedy recovery.

More info: Official