by Adam Cesare
My introduction to Adam Cesare was the John Skipp-edited horror imprint Ravenous Shadows. Ravenous Shadows boasted hardcore, concise horror novels, emphasizing that powerful storytelling could be accomplished in short novels and novellas. This was (is) a great idea. All of the novels were terse sucker-punches, with standouts being Mikita Brottman’s House of Quiet Madness and Adam Cesare’s Tribesmen. Tribesmen was a doozy—the story of a grindhouse film crew shooting a Euro-trash cannibal flick that quickly breaks far, far off its hinges. Tribesmen was as raw as a stick of bone pierced out from a broken arm. It was lean as hell; there was no flab on this baby at all. But I didn’t just like the story on this one; I liked the guy writing it. I liked his style.
This was a guy with a real passion for horror, as opposed to a John Saul-type who only writes horror to make money and thus has no true understanding of its keen and rich devices. Adam Cesare seemed like the kind of guy you could have over on a Saturday night for a few beers and a showing of an off-the-wall slasher flick. In other words, he seemed like one of us. And I liked that. I kept an eye on him, and not long after that he released Video Night, another homage to the nostalgia (if you’re of a certain age) of going to the video store and browsing the horror titles with your buddies. Sadly, Video Night got lost amid the pile of titles before it on my Kindle. When I saw he had a new book, The Summer Job, I snatched it up and took it for a test drive. And the verdict? Adam Cesare is not playing around. And this is a good thing.
THE STORY: The Summer Job is about a semi-burnout Gothgirl who desperately takes (what else?) a summer job at a creepy yet historic Massachusetts inn. She runs into problems almost immediately. Without spoiling anything, I can say I was pleasantly reminded on Stephen King’s Children of the Corn, Robert Marasco’s Burnt Offerings, and The Sentinel by Jeffrey Konvitz (all of which are lurid horror films, too), but the story is Cesare’s own. It moves with the slowburn creep of a film by Ti West or Jim Mickle. You can’t deny the cinematic tone here, which is ultimately the mortar that holds the book together. Cesare has the chops to pull it off, and seems to be doing the literary equivalent of what Robert Rodriguez, Eli Roth, and QT are doing for retro-film. And he's enjoying it.
THE STYLE: The atmosphere runs deep, which is not an issue. Dread lurks around all the right corners. In a way I admire the almost lazy course of events, which plays into the effectiveness of the quiet horror of the sudden revealing moments. But it’s not as raw as Tribesmen. At the same time the novel rings with a clean ambiguity, which is perhaps its biggest strength. Some parts were not coherently explained, and at some stages I questioned character motives. But I like that, too. If you came across a satanic cult in the woods, not everything would necessarily be explained in a cut-and-dry, Scooby-Doo fashion for you. You’d be left feeling you missed your ticket to the show, maybe, and this is what would ultimately haunt you. By the end of Gore Verbinski’s The Ring, I didn’t know what the hell was going on. And it made it that much scarier. Sometimes it just happens because that’s the way it is, and there is no other logical answer.
FINAL IMPRESSION: The Summer Job is worth applying for; this is a position you want. Adam Cesare remains on my watch list, with Video Night now visible in my queue. But I have to say I don’t think The Summer Job is his great masterpiece. Neither is Tribesman. He is capable of something epic, and I want him to gut that future project like a deer. I don’t want him to hold back, because sometimes I feel he does, just a little. If I could ask him one question I would say, “How far are you willing to go?” And then I would ask him to show me…
The Bookie Monster's Rating:
Welcome to Mission, Massachusetts. Praying won’t save you, but it couldn’t hurt. Claire is an alternative girl looking for an alternative. Her post-college prospects have fizzled and she’s looking for a new job, a new town, a whole new life. A summer position at a remote hotel may be just what she needs. Very soon, though, she begins to suspect the hotel may have decidedly sinister motives. At the same time she falls back into her old wild ways with the young people of the town, a radical group totally at odds with the sinister leaders of a local cult. Caught between two worlds, Claire has to plot her escape while spiraling deeper into a nightmare of ritual sacrifice and killer parties.
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