Sunray Alice: Jeremy Hepler
Reviewed By Steve Stred
I often find it hard to fathom the way the publishing world works. Maybe I’m old school and I think back to how music used to be, where a band would sign a three or four album deal with a label and would go through the cycle of write, record, release, tour and repeat, but I frequently have to shake my head that this isn’t how it happens with a lot of the most talented authors out there.
Case in point: Jeremy Hepler.
I’ll admit, I was really late to the game in reading his stunning debut ‘The Boulevard Monster‘ (which also snagged a Bram Stoker Nomination (deservedly so)) and really, really enjoyed his follow up ‘Cricket Hunters.’
But for the life of me, I don’t understand why a publisher hasn’t snapped him up and agreed to release his next five books, as Hepler is truly one of the best writers out there.
Which brings me to his newest, ‘Sunray Alice.’
This book is a literary treat. I often use the “dark fiction” tag on books because I find it works better for my brain than simply saying “Horror.” This is a book that backs that up for me. Beautiful, haunting, tragic and uplifting, this book is pristine and precious and something that I wish I didn’t read, simply so I could read it again and discover Alice and the events in Sunray, Texas all over again.
What I liked: Set during the Second World War, we follow sixteen-year-old Alice as she struggles to find joy in life following her father dying overseas. When four Nazi prisoners escape from a nearby internment camp, the town is turned upside down.
It’s within this setting, told from the present from Alice to her young neighbor, Emily, that we learn about the summer Alice discovered magic does exist in the world and that not everything is as it seems.
Hepler has crafted a remarkable story. The writing voice was phenomenal. I’d equate it to how, when you dive into a new Stephen King novel you instantly fall into that world and are transported. That happened here. It actually took me about 75% of the book for my brain to say “AH-HA! That is what’s going on here!” Really fantastic and sublime work.
Jeremy also does an amazing job of having us put into the small town. We can smell the smells, see the streets and know who each resident is. The secondary characters are all really well done, which makes each event that happens later on all that more gut-wrenching.
There are essentially two endings to the book. One in the past and one in the present. Both are tear-inducing for very different reasons. Hepler deftly closed this one out in both time periods.
What I didn’t like: Look, the reality of this book is I thought it was phenomenal from start to finish. Sometimes it makes this section harder for me to find something a reader may dislike or get turned off from. In this case, with how stunning the book and writing is, I simply can’t suggest anything. I’ve already added it to my list of “Top Books of the Year.”
Why you should buy this: Swinging back around to what I said in the beginning – Hepler needs a reliable home for his work so that we can all be confident in the knowledge that every two years or so a new release arrives. Sooner if possible, please and thanks. ‘Sunray Alice’ is a book that appeals to all readers of all genres, much like ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ is a movie that appealed to all moviegoers. This was dark fiction written beautifully by one of the best out there and an author that is must-read. Well done, Jeremy, Alice is one of the best characters to ever be put to page.
Approaching the end of her life, Alice Mayes, notorious caretaker of the anomaly known as The Garden of Sunray, is eager to tie up one last loose end before moving on. The last loose end. For decades she’s been dreaming of finding someone to share her secret with, someone worthy of her truth, and in twenty-year-old Emily Newell, she thinks she finally has.
On a momentous stroll through her massive garden with her young friend, Alice delves back into the past, back to those five horrific, mind-bending days in the summer of 1944 when she was sixteen, and for the first time in over seventy-five years, gives voice to her role in the Nazi prisoner internment camp tragedy that befell the small town of Sunray, Texas. In revealing all she witnessed, confessing all she did, she hopes to pass on a wondrous legacy as well as validate and honor the mysterious man she knew as Karl Wagner.
Steve Stred is the Splatterpunk Nominated Author of ‘Sacrament’ and ‘Mastodon.’
Based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Steve has released over a dozen novels and novellas as well as a number of collections. He has appeared alongside some of horror’s biggest names within some truly excellent anthologies.
He is a proud co-founder of the LOHF Writer’s Grant and an Active Member of the HWA.