Shortly after my review of Trashlight by Raymond S. Kent, published under Damnation Press, I was contacted by Matt Spencer to see if i would like to review his novel The Night and the Land, and I really should have said no.. not because I don’t love reading, but because my life was something of a chaos at the time, a chaos out of which I have only begun to emerge.
Before I get on to the reviewing, I would like to offer up some major thanks and props to the people at Damnation Press for the oppurtunities they have given both us here at Drunk in a Graveyard and also to the general public – good books, like good help really are hard to find. I would of course also like to thank again Raymond S. Kent, and Matt Spencer for giving us the oppurtunity to read these words.
The Night and the Land is a science fiction book, and looking back, I likely shouldn’t have been the go to candidate for this book, if only because science fiction is not my forte – don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind science fiction, but it’s not my go to.. and if only because of my intense and overwhelming phobia of aliens.. I recently came home from work one night exhausted and decided to settle in on the couch with my kitty and a bottle of wine and watch some Netlfix and I stumbled upon The Fourth Kind and thought i’d watch that.. and I got about a minute in before I remembered the months of horrible nightmares I had had after watching it the first time, and I assumed that if I started screaming in my sleep again that Scotty would judge me.
I’m one of those people that experiences the phenomenon known as “sleep paralysis” where your brain awakens but your body remains sleeping and you have this horrible feeling of being trapped inside your body, unable to move, and you are intensely paralyzed by fear, unable to even scream.. for YEARS I thought I was being abducted by aliens until I learned that this actually a disorder and not in fact nightly visits from the saucer people. You’d think that would have brought about some relief, but it didn’t, and I remain steadfast that if aliens ever come to Earth I’m going to hang myself with some piano wire.
Uh.. and with that out of the way…. The Night and the Land.
The Night and the Land doesn’t really give too much away on the back cover blurb (not that i read those blurbs anyways), but on a whole I was quite surprised. The story opens up with the main character Rob Coscan as a child, and even as a youth he understands that something is not entirely right about his family, and it is this sense of unease that he grows up with and that leads him to a life of confusion and ultimately, a life on the road. The tagline of The Night and the Land is “blood writes the book” and for Rob, this is intensely and literally true – his blood is not like the rest of the people he encounters, but he does not know this.
Like a gritty On the Road, Rob is stumbling through his life from small town to small town, when in Brattleboro, he meets Sally and the pair have an immediate connection. Sally, disturbed, and also running from her own past, falls all too easily into Rob Coscan’s bed and his life.
Brattleboro is a town in Vermont that seems overrun with rednecks, burn out hippies and indigent teens, all roaming around like bands of wild animals. It sounded like a place I would most certainly enjoy visiting. The locals and the mannerisms seem genuine and the story flows quite easily.
See, the thing with reviewing books is that for me anyways – I *have* to review them on a technical as well as literal level.. a book can be technically well written but if the story is awful, then all the grammar in the world isn’t going to save you in the end.. and vice versa. The benefit with Matt’s writing is that he is both a successful story teller, literally and technically. His writing has a good flow, and doesn’t fragment during character interaction or conversation. Again, some people can write amazing plot and descriptions, but the characters are unable to flow, and thus the story dies in its infancy. When a writer can impress me with flow, I am intrigued to keep reading and this is becoming rarer these days with the advent of shitty made for lowest common denominator fiction – LOOKING IN YOUR DIRECTION STEPHEN KING/STEPHANIE MEYER… Can we all just please agree that Stephen King and Stephanie Meyer are the same person – like they’re both fat messes, and I’m pretty sure Stephanie Meyer is a dude in a wig.. a dude named Stephen King. Can someone also just take a carbomb over to EL James’s house in the name of literature and good taste?
Sometimes, I pick up a book and start to read and I get phantom pain in my English degree, I really do and I’m less and less able to deal with it. So again – thank you Matt Spencer for being able to write and and not driving me one step closer to madness with poorly written tripe. I really think that this must be a trend with Damnation Press – and I like that. I am now eager to read other work from this publication group.
Props to Matt for also being able to write at least semi convincingly in the voice of a female – the character of Sally, though not as interesting or engaging as Rob, is believable and she seems geniunely broken inside (which makes sense once you find out what happened to her later). This again is a problem I have with much modern fiction – inability to write a character of the opposite gender of the writer in a convincing manner.. and don’t give me some horseshit about gender this and gender that, and gender equality cis nonsense.. in a base sense, the thought patterns of men and women are fundamentally different and driven by different notions – this is just fact. I’m not trying to make some statement about how a man can’t be a woman and vice versa.. I’m not Joss Whedon.
Sally, reminds me of many broken crust punk girls whom I know, who also take flight to the roads of life, and Sally’s words are very similar to words of these girls and I liked that.
On the topic of women’s issues and since I identify as a woman, I also appreciated the lack of smut in The Night and the Land. There is sex, sure, but it is written in a simple and minimal style which is also something fresh and relatively unheard of these days – in the days of greasy tampon sniffing Fifty Shades of Grey garbage.. The sex acts between Rob and Sally and even later between Sally’s parents are brief and leave most of it to the imagination, and it is to the benefit of the story.. Somehow I can always tell the frenzied key strokes (pun certainly intended) that a writer will be in as he or she salivates and crests into the climax of greasy literary sexual gratification.. I can usually picture the author getting fiercely aroused as they write the scenes and having to retire part way through to plunge their toilet to their own fiction – which by the way is depressing.. if you’re jerking yourself off to your own fiction you’re a fucking narcissist and that’s that.
Matt took the high road with The Night and the Land and didn’t resort to cheap sex scenes for gratifiction, rather he chose to let the story develop with the same casual flow that I came to very much respect. I will say that there is a rape scene towards the later middle of the book and it as well, is implied and brief. This is not to say that the victim is not forever changed by this horror, but the scene, which could be A Serbian Film in nature, is again very minimal and I appreciate that. I grow weary of rape and torture porn and I would have likely written a different review had the book been intensely smutty or rapey. Sorry fellas, but if i’m gonna plunge my toiler, it’s not gonna be to books.. I will watch a James Deen film, like a respectable lady… or you know.. go fuck my boyfriend.
All technical priase aside, I appreciate the story that Matt is telling with The Night and the Land and that is really what should be taken from my off kilter after hours writing. I’m also quite sorry I didn’t write all of this a hell of a lot sooner, because Matt seems like a pretty legit guy and i am apparently a flakey mess.. Oh, me.
Okay – so back to the story, we have Rob and Sally, runaways, losers, fighting to be lost, and interestingly enough fighting to be found, Neither is able to know quite what the other is, and like the past that haunts Sally, Rob is haunted by strange voices, which he assumes is the onset of mental illness. Events unfold that reveal to Rob, his true nature, and that is that he is not of this planet, and is a different species.. And.. so is Sally. Interestingly enough, both she and Rob are from the Old World, rival species of a distant planet.. Now, this is where the story gets a little murky for me.. Two star crossed lovers.. from rival clans.. sounds a bit like Romeo and Juliet in space? Well, the comparison is hard to ignore and it’s there. It doesn’t ruin the story by any means, but it’s there none the less. The star crossed lovers cliche is a hard one to escape – after Shakespeare, it’s all been done, that said, at least this story seems fresher than some other takes on the theme. The immediate and true devotion Rob shows to Sally becomes a bit lofty for me, but this does tie in to Sally’s true nature which I can’t actually reveal without spoiling the book for potential readers, and I do want you to go and buy this book – it’s $5 for the ebook edition, so deny yourself a Machiato from Starbucks and take a chance.
My other issue comes from the extended use of alien terminology and jargon. Since neither Rob nor Sally are forth coming with their own back stories and nothing is laid out to act as an explanation buffer, many of the terms come quickly and are left for the reader to define.. Schomite, High Natural, Familiar, First Call, Second Call, Deschembine, Magur Sevi.. these terms and more are all peppered into the flowing dialogue and interactions and for me, as someone who does not read much fantasy or science fiction, I found it somewhat difficult to keep up.. a few times I did have to go back and re-read passages to figure out what was being stated and that does break up the reading, at least for me… Fact is though, this issue may be an issue for me alone – if another reader who was more familiar with books written in the science fiction genre were to pick up the book, they might have an easier go of it than myself.
Allow me to say, that my fumblings did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the book and does not warrant more than the mention above. I understand that we as readers are likely to approach this book coming from the same newborn eyes as Rob and like him, we know little about what is being told to us and since the Night and the Land is only the first installment of a trilogy, I expect that more will be revealed in the book. Also, clearly I am not stating that the author should immediately and totally spell everything out for their reader – that removes the point of telling a story, but I do find that sprinkling mroe than a few strange terms into vague interactions did not leave me much to go on.. Regardless, I enjoyed the book, I will be reading the sequels (hint hint Matt Spender!), and look forward to reviewing them on this page…
So – in conclusion.. go buy the fucking book. Matt Spender is an exciting voice I look forward to reading more from, and the truth is that he and Damnation Press have done a thorough job of entertaining me, which is rare. With that in mind, be sure to check your grammar, use a thesaurus, find an alien life form and fuck it, and always always ALWAYS stay spooky.
Until next time, you fucks.