Soothing The Savage Swamp Beast – Zakary McGaha
Reviewed by Ben Walker
A door, when you’re holding a plank of wood vertically. Two Sunday dinners. Airport security when you have genital piercings. All things that are hard to get through. And now there’s Soothing the Savage Swamp Beast by Zakary McGaha, which I wanted to like so badly based on the Southern-fried weird premise, involving evil stalkers and a mystical cow, but it just wasn’t meant to be.
Both the swamp beasts and the slithery cow are skirted over in an oddly-paced prologue which drifts through three seemingly unrelated scenarios. Get past that and the story continues to struggle in finding its focus, with the lead characters of Aldert and Vogel burying their dogs in the back garden while taking their sweet old time in explaining exactly why their lawn has become a makeshift pet cemetery. By the time you find out, it’s hard to care about them or their recently departed pooches. There’s something off-putting about the style here, mostly present tense which flits around character’s heads while sometimes addressing you directly. It doesn’t quite work, especially as Vogel reminisces about things a lot, both in the far and recent past. When the reveal comes about how the dogs died, it feels like a footnote instead of a tragedy, let alone a call to action.
After introducing a few other townsfolk, mainly the horny, disillusioned teenager Jensen and a few others, Vogel leafs through a book that basically explains the mystery of the swamp. Not even a quarter of the way into the story and any intrigue is gone. All you’re left with then is a group of people who mostly pootle around waiting for things to happen. There’s no urgency, no driving force to make you wonder and worry about the next page. Vogel and Aldert pretty much forget the dead dogs half the time, shuffling through their lives while struggling to make sense of it all. Ambling, rambling philosophies and wondering things to oneself do not make for an interesting narrative.
Just before the halfway point, something finally happens to snap the pair out of their self-reflective existences, but even a bit of action involving a home invader is over before you know it, failing to deliver chills, thrills or even mild bellyache. Then, after things seem to be picking up, the story settles back into its rhythm of people wandering around and pondering their lot in life. Most of them can’t even decide which way to feel about things most of the time, which again makes it hard to care.
The story itself loses interest in Aldert and Vogel for a while after the halfway mark, focussing on another character who up until then seemed like a supporting player. And once again, despite the occasional glimpse of sexual deviancy and musical hero worship, we’re stuck with a character who never really goes anywhere. That’s somewhat the point of their arc, but by then I’d lost the goodwill to be interested in what anyone had to say about art, wasted potential or any of the other ideas floating in their jumbled minds.
As for the telepathic swap cow, that’s some false advertising right there, as the bovine bugger doesn’t even wander back into the plot until you’ve pretty much forgotten about it. Same goes for the evil threats which Vogel and Aldert must overcome. There aren’t any, not really. What the blurb sells as a bizarro B-movie creature feature style romp is more of a philosophical rumination on the stagnation of the soul. Think of it that way, and maybe you’ll have a better time than I did.
Soothing The Savage Swamp Beast
Vogel and Aldert are a young couple trying to start life out right–something that’s easier said than done, especially when there’s a magic swamp nearby that turns whoever swims its murky waters into a freak obsessed with whatever their passion may be. When Aldert learns about a power-hungry, fiddle-playing maniac who wants to use the bog to his advantage, the couple find themselves being stalked by those infected by the swamp’s evil.
And let’s not forget the swamp’s star inhabitant: the slithery cow.
The super-intelligent, part-reptilian cow is privy to the metaphysical malevolence that’s unfolding. Can it use its telekinetic powers to save Vogel and Aldert, or is the couple already doomed to fall victim to their own vices? Either way, some beasts may be beyond redemption.
A horror fan and writer since who knows when, Ben started dabbling in online reviews around 2001. Nowadays he has a booktube channel, which features bizarre book reviews and further nonsense. When he isn’t writing, he’s probably looking at GIFs and eating Mexican food.
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