My Favorite Horror Novel
By David Agranoff
Everyone has a different reason for reading horror. I don’t always understand the reasons others read the genre, but I know mine. Science Fiction was my first love and I loved the way the genre transported me to other worlds and challenged me to think differently. Horror I liked for different reasons. I lost my mother at a young age and it was hard to escape dark thoughts. I loved that the genre explored these dark thoughts with a positive release. Social commentary in horror was also important to me as many of favorite films such as Dawn of the Dead and Carpenters They Live were also message horror.
Lots of novels along the way did the job of scaring me. I have been reading horror for decades now and I have all kinds of favorites from classics like I Am Legend by Richard Matheson and The Keep by F.Paul Wilson. I squirmed through Poppy Z Brite’s Exquisite Corpse and have been blown away by authors of my generation like Sarah Pinborough and Cody Goodfellow.
One horror novel stands above the others and combines everything I love about the genre. Wetbones by John Shirley is a terror-inducing read and the pages drip with weirdness and righteous anger. It is one of a kind masterpiece that stands out in Shirley’s catalog despite being surrounded by dozens of works of genius. Wetbones is a supernatural novel of Lovecraftian and body horror that takes the reader on a visceral journey through the underbelly of Hollywood. Most well known as the co-screenwriter of the Classic film The Crow John Shirley is known for being the catalyst of street-level Cyberpunk with a capital Punk.
I have written at length about it before including a three-part blog tribute upon the 2011 release of the E-book which ended up becoming bonus material for the E-book and a few translated editions. You don’t have to just take my word for it. Clive Barker once described it this way “Wetbones is a wild and giddy ride, confronting the reader with marvels and horror in equal measure.” And Publisher’s Weekly said “Some of the most gruesome imagery ever placed between two covers to catalyze a potent tale of physical, psychological and spiritual depravity and redemption…This is horror at its most visceral and true.”
When John Shirley wrote Wetbones in 1990 he was fighting to get clean from drug addiction and the novel was an angry response to a relapse he suffered. “I had been clean from drugs for a long time, then had a relapse, when some harsh stuff happened in my life, and the relapses got more frequent, and it got very bad. I had no dignity in my life. I wasn’t living on the streets but nearly got killed and it was very hard on anyone close to me. So the addiction framework of Wetbones, the whole Akishra metaphor, was a cathartic effort to deal with that, to make myself see the fullest, ugliest truths of addiction clearly and straight on and without any rationalization.”
If you had to make a comparison I think of this book as feeling like Requiem for Dream written by Lovecraft and directed by a young David Cronenberg. It has a weird tales vibe mixed with body horror and some of the most disturbing serial killings set to the page. At heart was a serial killer named Ephram who controls a creature that feeds off addictions called Akishra to exploit people.
John Shirley is a master at using the horror and science fiction novel as a means of making a socio-political point. Wetbones is very much a horror novel about addiction, and while it drags the reader through a disgusting and hurtful gutter that reflects real-life all too well it also has monsters. Also at the core of the book is a heart-breaking tale of Reverend Garner a recovering addict who battles his inner demons while trying to find his lost daughter.
Every one of us makes choices based on what pleases us, and we all have soul worms that could be exploited as the Ephram does in this novel. As John Pointed out in the interview on my blog “He uses a method that combines the AKISHRA methods and his own techniques–there was, in fact, some kind of Hindu myth about “soul worms” that feed off people who are addicted to things. That was the inspiration for the book. They are the Akishra. Ephram’s power is to make you take pleasure in doing things you hate. Which is itself a metaphor…and he takes ordinary pleasure, which is fine and twists it, into something monstrous.”
What could be more horrible that? A monster that feeds off our desires? That is not so fantastic to the addict and no other horror novel as played with this fear so deeply.
There are various editions out there, the leisure paperback might be the easiest to find but it is not a fantastic edit. The hardcover and the 2011 re-issues are preferred edits. There might be technically better horror novels. Shirley himself who has written several masterpieces like his cyberpunk masterpiece City Come-a-Walkin or Splendid Chaos that might be considered better. Not to me. Wetbones to me is the best horror novel written by anyone to this date. The fear it creates is one that worms in the reader and with have you squirming.
David Agranoff is the award-nominated author of seven novels and two short story collections. His novels include The Vegan Revolution…With Zombies, Punk Rock Ghost Story and the Splatterpunk award-nominated novel Ring of Fire from Deadite Press. His first short story collection Screams from a Dying World was nominated for the Wonderland award for best collection. He is the co-host of The Dickheads Podcast devoted to the work of Philip K Dick. www.soundcloud.com/dickheadspodcast
His next novel is a Science Fiction novel Goddamn Killing Machines due out in October 2019 from Clash Books. His blog has www.davidagranoff.blogspot.com has over 800 plus book reviews and updates on his books and podcasts.
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