Cemetery Club by JG Faherty

A different ‘club’ and a different author, Journalstone Press editor Christopher C. Payne sent me a copy of JG Faherty’s Cemetery Club which is totally unrelated in storyline to Gregory Bastianetti’s Jokers Club. From the website:

20 years ago, four friends awoke an ancient evil living beneath the town of Rocky Point, NY. Now it’s back, and only the Cemetery Club can stop it before everyone ends up dead. Or worse.

This book has a little bit of everything: zombies, paranormal entities, gore-galore and just a hint of B-movie juiciness. On top of that, the plot flows beautifully and the major characters are easily worth your emotional investment. I’ve seen some reviews of the book comparing it to King’s It, but I just don’t see it. Yes, a group of friends reunite after time apart, but after the first few chapters you’ll see that Cemetery Club stands on its own.

The plot centres around Todd, John, Cory and Marisol – the Cemetery Club – who would meet up in the local cemetery every day to do all the things that teens hiding from their parents do. The story takes place in present day, with Faherty expertly weaving flashback chapters masterfully throughout, giving the reader a little bit more insight as to what his characters went, and will be going through.

There are three types of monsters that are encountered: paranormal, physical, and human. You might think that ‘physical’ and ‘human’ are the same, I assure you they are not. Not only is the town under siege, but the people in charge of the town are some of the more unsavory characters in the book. This might seem cliche, but once you discover the hidden connections between the personalities, the human monsters and their actions seem that much more despicable.

By glancing at the cover, you can probably guess what I mean when I say ‘paranormal monsters’. I’d like to point out that even with such an overt clue, Faherty does a great job of keeping the mystery of the monsters alive by having many of the townspeople weigh in, thus involving the reader in the mass hysteria being experienced in the book. I’d be giving too much away by saying more, but I will say that the physical monsters are the kind we know and love, with an entertaining spin on how they came to be.

Getting back into the characters, I must say that the effort put into creating the four protagonists is very much appreciated. I CARED about them: I felt sorry for the alcoholic, worse for the abused spouse, sympathized with the disturbed person (don’t judge me) and wished (for the most part) that my life mirrored that of the lawyer. That’s enough of a teaser for now.

Cemetery Club is a well-crafted read, Journalstone and JG Faherty impressed me with this one. To pick up your copy of the book, visit the Journalstone store. For more information about JG Faherty, you can visit his website.

Bit by Bloody Bit: Stephen King’s IT – Part 5: The Ritual of Chud

This week concludes the first installment of Bit By Bloody Bit and the end of my journey through Derry, Maine. While I’m a bit sad to leave the haunted town and the Losers Club, I am ready to move on to new terrors as well. There is also a gnawing disappointment that comes with finishing a book like Stephen King’s It. For one thing, the excitement of not knowing, of trying to figure out the big reveal is gone. And for another, you have to start that hunt for the perfect book all over again. You’ve got an itch you just can’t scratch. Many genre fans started here with It or with another epic Stephen King book. Maybe this was your gateway drug to horror, the one that led you down a path lined with trees casting ominous shadows that hide monsters, ghouls, sinister fiends, and lost souls.

I think It deserves a more diverse categorization than simply horror, but still I can’t help coming back to the same conclusion: It is almost the perfect horror novel. The characters are relatable. Not even secondary characters are lazily drawn into the background as fodder for plot development. As I mentioned in the first Bit By Bloody Bit post, King takes great care with all the characters in his book. He gives them emotional context and makes the reader care about them. King also has a terribly complex monster with a rich history anchored to the town of Derry. He has developed the landscape as diligently and scrupulous as the people in it.

That painstaking effort and care for his story make the entire reading experience a level above the simple act of taking in a book. The story takes on a life of its own, haunting you long after turning the last page. It is not just a scary book. It is many things: horrifying, sad, psychological, suspenseful, social commentary… The book isn’t just filled with bullies and monsters; it’s filled with real life truths, hard truths that exist in and out of the book.

So why is It only almost the perfect horror novel? There are probably many fans that had the same reaction as me, but the conclusion was a bit of a let down. After a thousand pages sharing the lives of seven other characters, a monster, and some bullies King unveils the big reveal which left me with a womp womp womp ringing in my head. I don’t know that there could be a perfect conclusion to such a great story. Your expectations are built so high that it’s hard to imagine how you could finish it off gracefully. Maybe I had that reaction because part of me didn’t want it to end at all.  The ending doesn’t ruin the book and I would still highly recommend this novel to anyone (not just fans of speculative fiction), but if I had one gripe about the almost perfect horror novel, that’s it.

If I read It in my youth, my literary history would probably be much different, but as it were I finally found It, the seven Losers, and Derry at the ripe young age of 30. I’d be curious to see how someone who read this in their youth would interpret the story as an adult.

Did you read It when you were still a kid and then again as an adult? How was the experience different or the same? Did you appreciate certain aspects of the book more or less? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you!

Bit by Bloody Bit: Stephen King’s IT – The Covers

I’ve been reading Stephen King’s It for over a month. Of course, I had to take breaks from reading to get married, buy a house, do a little remodeling, move in, and all the good stuff that comes with being a grown up. But still, after a solid month and a half (maybe even 2 months!) of reading the same book I am getting a little burned out. Don’t get me wrong, King’s It is by no means plodding. The characters are engaging, sympathetic, and carefully developed. The history of the town is deep and complicated. Only a novel of this girth could possibly cover all the ground necessary to make the story really impactful and truly terrifying. And yet, as we near the month of October I find myself getting restless. My pre-ordered copy of Cosmic Forces, Greg Lamberson’s third installment of The Jake Hellman Files (review by Colum here), has arrived. I started Cullen Bunn’s Crooked Hills and there are a number of books coming out in October that I have been looking forward to all year, John Everson’s The Pumpkin Man among them. So, I’m getting a bit distracted. I thought this would be a good opportunity to have an intermission and peruse the covers of It across the globe. Join me beyond the break for my favorite interpretations of Stephen King’s It in the art of the covers!

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Bit by Bloody Bit: Stephen King’s IT – Part 4: July of 1958

Stephen King famously likened his writing to the “literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries.” A Big Mac and fries leaves you feeling lethargic. Calm and content, but soon after mildly depressed and vaguely sick. I can’t imagine any reader feels lethargic, calm, and content after reading It. The book is definitely satisfying, but I’m usually left feeling more tense than calm. Now past the halfway mark in his epic tome It, I can see where King would draw the comparison, but perhaps not for reasons that are immediately obvious.

The obvious parallels would be accessibility and affordability. Whether you travel to Germany, Australia, Japan, Sweden, Spain, Russia, France, Israel, Serbia, The Netherlands, Brazil, or Finland you can find a McDonald’s. And there, too, you will find a copy of It. Both are (or even certainly more so in the late-80s) instantly recognizable American icons. Either can be found in the most convenient locations. But while one has become the ultimate metaphor for mass consumption and social complacency, the other is revealing of the dark and terrifying side of those social trappings. King’s Big Mac and fries is actually a Happy Meal and the prize is, well, your worst nightmare!

In Part 4 this week, King uses one of his most popular devices; de-romanticizing the American Dream. We go back to July of 1958, the summer the Losers Club became whole with the addition of their seventh member. The final piece to complete this puzzle is Mike Hanlon – our tour guide in Derry’s past, present, and future via the Derry Interlude chapters – in a flashback that exposes the biggest blemish on America’s white picket fence dream; racism. Mike is chased to the other six – Big Bill, Ben, Eddie, Richie, Stan, and Bev – by a group of older bullies whose ignorant leader Henry Bowers is the most feared of them all. This particular incident comes after a series of heinous crimes against the Hanlons, Derry’s only black family.

King loves to revel in the hypocrisy of the American dream and does so with reckless abandon in the opening of this book. He forces his reader to consider the underside of America’s great quilt of diversity and the real life monsters lurking there. He makes prejudice a personal story, first in the opening with a hate crime against a gay couple and again with Stan’s wife Patricia. King can be both subtle and overt in his commentary on the result of hate and ignorance. For this part which features more of Mike’s back story, he takes the power of ignorance to a terrifying level. We shift between the supernatural monster and the real life human predator. Both are equally terrifying, but unfortunately the latter is one that doesn’t vanish when you close the book.

Mike is in good hands with the Losers Club though. Each member is an outcast and they are all excluded from polite society for different reasons. Bill stutters, Stan is a Jew, Ben is fat, Richie can’t keep his mouth shut, Eddie is a weak mamma’s boy, and Bev is poor and socially awkward because of her overbearing father. Finally, there is Mike Hanlon, the only black kid in Derry. To their peers they are lame duck losers, but together they find that each member possesses an exceptional quality and by joining forces they just might be the saving grace of Derry for future generations.

When King refered to his writing as a Big Mac and fries I’m sure he was talking about the power of his brand, but you could draw a less obvious connection to the ubiquitous fast food chain. More people than not have a taste for Micky D’s and I think almost anyone will be able to relate to the tale King presents in It. Sure, there are plenty of people who would never eat at a fast food joint and certainly people who aren’t King fans. But more often than not the fast food chain is able to draw in crowds with a waft from their grease soaked kitchen. Likewise, King brings millions of readers, many of which aren’t typically fans of speculative fiction, who want to be scared and know they will connect to his story. It sounds dismissive to compare a master like King to an evil corporate empire like McDonald’s, but it’s really a compliment to the power and universality of his words. Of course, it’s important to note that his words won’t clog your arteries or give you an addiction to sweet tea!

Before I wrap up the first edition of Bit by Bloody Bit with the final chapter of It by Stephen King, I want to take a look at all the incarnations of his monster on book covers across the globe. So, come back next week and check it out!

Bit by Bloody Bit: Stephen King’s IT – Part 3: Grownups

At this juncture, we’re more than halfway through this terrifying tour of Derry. Although, I should call it a hypnotism rather than a tour. Stephen King has taken our imaginations hostage, enchanted us into the horrific nightmare of Losers, and constructed a tragedy so elaborate it’s hard to believe you aren’t really a part of it. In fact, I superimposed my own childhood memories, fears, and sometimes-triumphs onto this story, sharing their drama, hovering in the fray like the lost friend they all ignore.

As we edge closer and closer to the “end” of It, giving a synopsis becomes so much more delicate. My purpose in Bit by Bloody Bit was never to give away any important plot details, but rather to share my reading experience with you as it happens, from a fresh and virgin perspective (keep in mind I use that term rather loosely!). I know it would be amiss for me to recap the details of Stephen King’s It, “Part 3: Grownups,” which is why I am compelled to reveal the spirit of this particular section and the emotional point I have reached having just finished it.

“Grownups” is probably most palpable to me now than it would have been if I read it in my early youth. Now at the 30 year mark, I find the experiences of our present-day Losers quite personal and relative to my own. I’m not haunted by a supernatural monster from my past, but I have experienced the surreal moments of facing my past and in turn being more self-aware in the present. While It is still an integral part of the Losers’ journey, and the ultimate metaphorical battle with themselves, “Grownups” is also the psychological trip of reliving childhood experiences through the adult lens.

It won’t be too much of a spoiler to say “Grownups” features the inevitable reunion of the Losers. The reunion is perhaps as iconic as poor Georgie and his yellow slicker. After the reunion, the Losers set out to reacquaint themselves with Derry, invoke those old memories and conjure the spirit of their younger selves. I half tumbled through their recollections while reliving my own. For Ben Hanscom, the object that triggers his memory is the Derry library. The unchanged structural pieces have such a strong impact “he felt literally lost in time, not really sure how old he was.” He inadvertently looks up the iron staircase “hoping, as he had hoped as a kid, to see a girl in a skirt coming down those steps.” King’s preoccupations with the power of memory are obvious in It and I am far from the first to mention it. But, reading “Grownups” I felt the power of memory. Or more importantly, I was truly aware of it. For Ben Hanscom it’s the library, for me it’s my Grandmother’s house. Growing up I was there almost every weekend. From high school on the trips to Grandma’s got less frequent and returning to her home now feels like going back in time. I fall into a sort of happy, childlike state at Grandma’s. I grow physically tired because I feel so safe and at peace. Sometimes I’ll nap for hours and I even pick up old childhood habits. Reading It those idiosyncrasies, family dysfunctions, and childhood traumas are exposed as universal truths and I feel liberated.

Surely King took his own personal experiences with memory and infused them into It. How else could he prompt waves of remembering, the kind that occur when you see an old friend? How else could he know the instinctual habits that return upon retracing the steps of your old childhood stomping grounds?

For some readers, It will be much too long, too involved, too scrupulous its plot to hold their attention. For others, like me, it will be more than a scary book, but a mirror reflecting your own memories and encouraging meditation on a world you perhaps forgot.

Seeing a chunk of the book left, equal to that which I just finished, has me wondering where the story could go from here, but after “Grownups” I am still on board and remain ever curious about what next psychological trip King has in store.

Please come back next week for my thoughts on “Part 4: July of 1958.”

If King’s It is your favorite horror novel you MUST check out Cemetery Dance Publications’ 25th Anniversary Special Limited Edition (pictured below)! This is a beautiful superfan collectible sure to haunt generation after generation just like the titular monster It!