For some of the faithful readers of , you might know that I, Robin Goodfellow, am something of a jack of all trades.. Before staggering in to my current career in healthcare, I was an art school bum who earned my Bachelor’s degree in English and Fine Arts. That degree, among other things, gave me enough talent and where with all to eloquently ask someone, “Do you want fries with that?” and qualified me to work at a very hip and occasionally happening second hand bookstore, that was staffed most by a degenerate staff of punks, goths, tragic freaks and other members of the unwashed masses who “feel ways about stuff”.
One of the key elements of this bookstore was that it also served as a local and independent publishing hub for local authors to sell their books, host book signings, hand out flyers, etc.. and because of this I have a deep life ruining fear of independently published books. Something about a poorly printed covered with a blurry ISBN code is enough to send the sycophant in me saying things like, “I appreciate your voice” and other statements beginning with “I feel that..”.. And since this attitude is in direct conflict with the B.A. attached to the end of my name, these two opposing forces fight a battle of good and evil within me and I end up having my psyche come very close to approaching critical mass.
With all of this said, I was pretty apprehensive when I was asked to do a book review by Villipede Publications of J. Daniel Stone’s “The Absence of Light“. I work as a tutor when I am not working full time and have a very hard time telling people that I don’t care for their writing.. I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings, and I had vivid pictures in my head of me having to delicately pick out my words in order to not make my criticisms sound horribly bitchy. All of this paranoia was like most of my paranoias, for not.. I was able to befriend J. Daniel Stone (the J stands for Jagermeister, because fuck yeah alcohol) on twitter and got to know him and what he was about, and through this I was able to gain more of a sense of what “The Absence of Light” would have in store for me, and the truth is, all my fraught worries were really for not.
Why, you ask?
Well… J. Daniel Stone can write. He really can. I didn’t have to pick apart poorly worded sentences, ghastly punctuation, or try to figure out what the fuck he was thinking when he decided to sit down and write this novel… mostly because I had a pretty good idea of what he had been thinking (because I had, had similar thoughts).
From the first few pages I was swept into a dark punky world of nightclubs, Jagermeister, craft beer, ghosts, and music. He has a style that I can only describe as, “if William S. Burroughs and Poppy Z. Brite had a love child”.
The story centres around a set of twins, Rez and Delilah, conceived in darkness, born in violence, and separated at birth. The pair share many similarities; a love of music, some gothic fashion sensibilities, sexual confusion/frustration, and both are somehow connected to the spirit world and are very much in touch with these spirits, one through music and one through pictures.
Like two particles suffering from a quantum entanglement that spans a few states, and two very different groups of friends, they find themselves brought together in their birth place of New York, and they begin a whirlwind of drugs, alcohol, ghost hunting, and bad decisions that leave both wiser but considerably worse for the wear, as they try to unravel the mystery behind their birth and separation, and even more so as they try to figure out just who is haunting them, and why.
There are a lot of themes that go on in “The Absence of Light”, and the one that stood out the most for me, was this all consuming feeling of loss that seems to be felt to the point of being palpable by all of the characters. Each character, including the supporting characters has this bleakness and desolation that hangs over them and clings to them, and in truth this seems to be what forces the characters together, and like the aforementioned quantum entanglement, then tears them asunder. Other themes that come up an are equally as important are the theme of loneliness, and what it feels like to grow up “different” – different being, queer, goth, fat, loser, outcast, whatever you want to call it. This book to me became instantly important because it represents the power of so-called “outsider” fiction and it is with this power that this book will call its’ readers home.
I think that with the varied amount of characters, there is almost a character for everyone. There are also characters you will find yourself alternately loving and hating, and Delilah, the female lead was very much that character for me. I spent half of the book wanting to give her a hug and half wanting to choke the shit out of her.. and I couldn’t quite put my finger on the why until I realized that I have those same feelings when I look at old pictures of myself, from when I was confused and frightened and spent my days looking for ghosts between the pages of old books, cranking up music to deafening levels, wearing all black, and self harming. Delilah is and will be for many readers a reflection into the life and mind of a teenage goth girl, and what was great about her is that since the author appears to have some leanings into that lifestyle, he can actually write about it in a fairly convincing manner. I am only mentioning this because I have recently noticed a few male authors writing about young goth girls and not only do the characters come off as completely one dimensional, but also unconvincing. J. Daniel Stone talks the talk, because he’s walked in those shoes.
The two final themes that make up this book are self harm and gender issues and sexuality. Alex, Delilah’s second in command is a gender neutral boy who dresses like a girl and refuses to identify with any gender or any gender specific pronoun. Alex is also the musical genius to Delilah’s spiritual ability and is something of her consort without the sexual relationship to accompany it. There are themes of homosexuality and bisexuality and these are all presented in an up front and honest way, and at first some of the encounters seemed a little immature, but for any gay, bi, or trans person, those first few encounters can be so confusing and awkward and fumbling.. they are immature.. and that’s sort of what life and sex is, and it is this that scored a lot of points with me. Too often, books portray these encounters as these fantastic and amazing romances, but the reality is so different, especially for youth. This starkness and frankness is also used in the portrayal of the self harm that is practiced by some of the characters, including but not limited to piercings, tattooing, and actual cutting.. and it is not romanticized or glamorized or even rationalized.. Delilah harms herself repeatedly not for any reason other than it makes her feel better, and this harm isn’t glossed over with any kind of sugar coating, it is presented very ipso facto and simply is, and again it is this presentation that resonated with me, if only because it didn’t seek to have a resolution or a happy ending, or even a reason… it just was.
So where does the Supernatural element come in? New York is apparently quite a haunted place, and the birthplace of Delilah and Rez is haunted by an ugly and malignant force that is part demon, part poltergeist, and all the way evil in a very possessive way. Arkham, the father of the twins, lives his brief life in the snare of these demons, and passes his uncanny ability of sight and summoning to his children. Rez and his haphazard group of drunken friends spend their time hunting ghosts, taking pictures, recording EVP sessions and looking for meaning both personal and spiritual in their work. As the darkness creeps closer to them, the encounters become more violent, and those not in control of their souls find themselves absorbing the darkness like the sponge, and develop possessed states. The Supernatural elements in the book are very convincing and read with more reality than any paranormal television show these days.
Though the book is part love story, part coming of age, and part ghost story, it is all parts well done, and with all things, there were a few aspects of the book that I didn’t seem to “get” if only because I’m from Canada, I grew up here.. I don’t really know what the experience would be to grow up gay or strange in America, and I can only imagine it would be vastly different from mine. There are a few pieces of antagonism in the Absence of Light that didn’t work for me, but this comes down to personal opinion and again my own experiences but did not take away from the value of the book and the enjoyment I had in reading it (I actually just finished a second reading of the book and have picked up even more on the pieces I must have missed before).
Robin Goodfellow says – if you’ve ever worn platform boots, gotten drunk on Jagermeister, been a girl and kissed a girl (and liked it), felt haunted, or felt lonely, this is the book for you, and it is available through Amazon, and it’s around $10, so go and support some upcoming talent before he ends up famous.