I always suffer from a slight panic attack in the preceding moments before opening the latest work from one of my favourite authors. Scared that the author has lost his writing talent, it is a very scary time, especially when the author in question has such a high standing. Nathan Ballingrud is one of the most exciting names to come into the horror in recent years his collection North American Lake Monsters stood head and shoulders above any other collection that I read last year. Could he keep this up for the latest release from This is Horror?
Will is a barman in New Orléans ( not sure how any bar could survive in New Orléans as every one I have read about has been the focal point of something dark and evil), caught in the between world fugue state of being in a relationship but pining for another Will feels trapped and unsure. But when his best friend Eric gets into a fight that leads to lots of blood being spilled Will soon finds out that there is a dark underside to life, darker than life a world where
"Inside it's all just worms."
By the time you have finished the first page of this novella, you know that you are safely in the hands of master story teller. Ballingrud prose is a beguiling one. Lean and mean yet one that is also deeply evocative, this is a writer who really knows his craft. Ballingrud can convey emotions and intent in one perfectly crafted sentence that some authors would take a whole paragraph to do. Even a simple descriptive sentence towards the end of the book that describes a pile of dirty laundry in the corner of the room, has a lot of power behind the simple description of it. To the point where the laundry almost takes on a life of its own.
Using a mcguffin similar to that of The Ring, The Visible Filth uses this simple hook to hang a fantastic dual narrative that looks at not just the dark and dangerous world that exists beneath us all, but the dark and dangerous emotions that simmer beneath the veneer of a relationship.
Ballingrud's portrayal of the young couple's relationship is almost primal, where love, passion and mistrust all fight for attention. This facet of the narrative as a huge emotional depth to the story, one which the supernatural and horrific elements feed off to wonderful effect.
Intense horror and scenes of gore only work when there is a strong emotional response base. Gore for the sake of gore just becomes a stream of words if there is no basis to it. Thankfully Ballingrud has ensured that the reader is so invested in both the characters and the story that when the disgusting stuff turns u we the readers are enthralled by it. Even in these scenes there is a macabre beauty to the writing, elegant and restrained it never crosses a line.
The Visible Filth, continues Ballingruds run of excellent work. He combines King's gift of characters and sense of place with Barker's exquisitely beautiful horror. Horror has been waiting for a new champion to break us out of the gutters, I firmly believe that Nathan Ballingrud is the person do this.
You can purchase a copy from This Is Horror, and while you are there check out their other excellent publications