For a young reader, the Book Fair is an event to be anticipated all year. In my young heart, it was third in line of most important events of the year: Trip to Disney World, County Fair, Book Fair. When I was 8 or so, I discovered a book at my school’s Fair called True Haunted Houses and Ghosts. I am sure if I were to find it again today, it would be simply amusing, but at the time it scared the ever-loving crap out of me. I can remember one of the illustrations to this very day. A peasant father with his sobbing daughter’s hands in one of his, and an axe in the other to cut them off with. I can no longer remember the story, or WHY Papa wanted to cut off his daughter’s hands, but her look of terror, tear streaked face and long blonde braids stick in my mind. Did I mention I had long blonde braids? I was so terrified of this book that I would try to hide it from myself so that I wouldn’t read it. But I always went back to it.
I like to be scared, and after years of being a horror fan, my fear threshold, at least in the literary medium is pretty high. Take me to the movies, and I will jump and scream at every silly trick, but scaring me in a book is difficult. Grossing me out is tough to do as well.
I was privileged to be introduced to an author, Jack Wallen, who has managed both, by my friend Emma Jameson. The book I am going to share with you is called Hell’s Muse. As you might imagine, it’s the very definition of an irreverent work.
According to the author’s blurb: “In the beginning was the Word – and the Word was a lie.
A struggling writer dives into the dark pits of madness to create his most perfect work – a parallel of his own life, only twisted into a malignant hatred. When the written word opens a gateway to Hell, every truth the writer believes is challenged, every lie made truth.
As a trail of death and sorrow spills from the words, the writer is drawn into an unholy abyss to become Hell’s Muse.”
The story is in several layers, a novel within a novel. The characters come at you in snapshots, mostly because this dark carnival ride moves extremely quickly. The story flies. Jack’s writing at times has the hectic frivolity of an old EC Comic, at times the darkly sensual attention to detail we might have seen in Clive Barker’s early work. And, he’s not afraid to gross you out. As the layers of reality within the work begin to melt into each other, the reader will question everything, and I assure you, this is wise. By the end of the novel, I didn’t quite know what to believe. I will not spoiler you, but I will say everything will make a kind of sense when you get there.
Before I rate this work, I will give the caveat I sometimes do that this is not a work for the faint of heart. Additionally, I’ll include the weak of stomach. It’s odd to give a book so hellish a Heavenly rating. I guess the little girl who loved to be scared is still weighing in.