On The Lips Of Children: Mark Matthews
Reviewed by Brian Bogart.
Meet Macon. Tattoo artist. Athlete. Family man. He’s planning to run a marathon, but the event becomes something terrible.
During a warm-up run, Macon falls prey to a bizarre man and his wife who dwell in an underground drug-smuggling tunnel. They raise their twin children in a way Macon couldn’t imagine: Skinning unexpecting victims for food and money.
And Macon, and his family, are next.
Macon is a man preparing for a marathon. His girlfriend, Erin, has always warned him about pushing his limits and pacing himself. But he has a lot to prove, to himself and her. And to their daughter Lyric. What starts as a simple last-minute run will lead him to limits that stretch more than just his limbs.
He feels that the marathon will prove himself worthy, that it will show that he’s ready to finally “go the distance” for his family; to finally be the man that they need him to be.
The marathon would have been much easier than the drug-induced lunacy of the filthy and increasingly feral clan’s trap that they all unwittingly fall prey to.
Mark Matthews has a knack. Something about his writing makes me turn pages. He’s fairly adept at writing characters, piece by piece, while moving the story forward. It’s not break neck speed- but it’s paced in such a way that I read this in one sitting. While I do think that being in Macon’s head (the constant runner’s mentality stuff) did become slightly repetitious- it didn’t stop me from reading. Just a personal quibble.
The man and wife who could be considered the leaders of the clan, homeless and living off the poor folk who cross their path- they are two parts of a whole. There may have been a time where he wasn’t so far gone, losing his mind and feverish- but those days have long passed. She has been used, mistreated, locked away- but she is also a mother. And her children mean more to her than even the mistreatment at his hands.
But don’t let that fool you. She may have moments of sympathy and empathy- but this is the life she has known. The children, Q and T, know her as mother and mother knows best. They also see through her eyes. There is love there, in their wild stares, but children must be fed. It is the way it is. Always has been.
Even if these strange new guests are pleading for their lives. Their freedom. Their right to be a family. Tortured and kidnapped, held hostage- these are their ways. It feed the growing, incessant need for the drugs that have consumed them… just as the prisoners themselves may be consumed.
If you pay- you are free. If not, they take. It is their way.
Paraphrasing a bit, but that pretty much sums up the twenty four hour period in this family’s lives, hidden away in the dark, praying for release.
It brings to mind similar themes found in classics like Jack Ketchum’s Offspring or even The Hills Have Eyes film might be more accurate. Not as visceral, but a cautionary and effective story of being pushed to the limit when facing off against a crazed group just dying to take a nibble here and there. Survival on both sides.
Thigh or arm, anyone?
Just a little off the cheek, please…
Matthews paints a somber and lunatic tale, jumping from the drugged ramblings of the clan’s members and then catching you off guard with the frightening sadness of the children’s predicament. If you compare it to the film Mama and the feral children there, you have an idea of what they are. I’ve always been fascinated by children and those types of situations. Children adapt, for better or worse, on a primal level. Instinct, That can be a scary thought, if you let it linger.
Someone complained online that this book portrayed the homeless in a negative light. No, it portrays these particular ones in a horrifying light. That would be like saying Texas Chainsaw Massacre paints all Texans as chainsaw-wielding maniacs. (Come on, we all know guns are more practical and less cumbersome.)
Sarcasm aside, I get the sentiment and concern, but horror always plays in the field of worst case scenarios- then multiplies that fear as needed, whether it is rational or irrational fear. It doesn’t pick sides. Whichever is most effective.
Fast-paced and claustrophobic, On The Lips of Children plays in that realm well. Well-written, it is a quick read that doesn’t reinvent the genre- but confident enough to make you think twice about running at night on a darkened trail.
Star Rating (out of 5): 4*
Brian Bogart is an American author of dark fiction and horror/fantasy. He has written stories most of his life and has been a fan of the genre since the age of seven. His approach to storytelling is a tad macabre at times but tries to capture the nuances of the humanity and sometimes, inhumanity, beneath the surface. He supports the horror community with bloodied open arms and demonic vigor.
Dream Darkly and Keep Writing.
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