You know how it is with urban legends and being a teenager, when you’re all ushered off to some dark corner between the world of children and adults, sitting circled around stolen cigarettes or cheap cider, and someone says “Did you guys ever hear about…?”
…And there’s always somebody whose brother knows somebody who actually saw the… well, it doesn't matter what it is, what matter is that it’s out there, in that same world between worlds as you and your friends, and even though you know it’s just a story, the shadows beyond the streetlights get that little bit thicker…
This is the part of the charm of Robert Brockway’s The Unnoticeables, an urban fantasy horror that pits young punk losers against a paranormal conspiracy vast and terrifying, and lurking just on the edges of their mundane lives.
Living on the fringes of the 70’s New York punk scene, and with nothing going on in his days but cheap booze and cheaper sex, protagonist Carey sees his friends disappeared without purpose or fanfare by inexplicable tar monsters. With no one else around to give a shit, and with no other resources but a capacity for beer-fuelled punk mayhem, Carey and his band of misfit buddies take it upon themselves to investigate the strange, faceless scene kids that are eerily conspicuous in their inconspicuousness. Meanwhile, in present day Los Angeles, wannabe stunt-woman Kaitlyn finds herself stalked by a former teenage heart-throb turned invincible inhuman killing machine. What follows is a struggle against universe-bending beings of pure energy, and the awful monstrosities that they leave in their wake.
At first glance The Unnoticeables is punk in every sense-- it’s gory, blunt, pacey and unconstrained-- but it’s also a tale built on the solid foundations of great concepts, likeable characters and effortlessly smart prose.
The focus on Teens Versus Monsters is strong in this book, and probably the most enjoyable parts of it concern the plucky ill-prepared losers and their shoddy efforts at heroism. At times, it almost feels like a particularly racey R.L Stine yarn (and I mean that as sincere flattery, of course.) However, Brockway’s talent for the profane and the graphic would leave a young James Herbert nodding in approval, and The Unnoticeables breaks away from urban fantasy adventure and quickly delves deep into base and sticky body horror, before soaring into vast existential dread like a dolphin on a particularly bad trip. And it’s not all splatter and spectacle-- there’s an underlying theme of what it means to feel alone in the world and baffled by our place in it, of railing against our own inevitable impotence, of finding the things that matter most and clinging to them with everything you have, as little as that may be. On the jolly high-seas of splatter punk, Here Be Commentary, and Brockway's musings that the surface vapidity of ‘biz scene’ Hollywood might be something far more sinister toes the line between seductive satire and frenzied paranoia, reminiscent of Brian Yuzna’s Society. It will leave your mouth twitching between a smirk and a grimace.
Throughout all this Brockway does what horror needs most— he weaves an intriguing and original mythos that lives beyond the pages and follows you out into the real world. You’ll find no dark magic or virus outbreak here— Brockway’s antagonists are the very workings of the universe itself.
Comedy and horror have an uneasy partnership, and balancing a laugh-out-loud adventure starring a comically inept protagonist with genuinely sobering moments of dread is no easy task. Brockway pulls it off, making full use of his macho low-on-fucks-to-give writing persona that’s so brash and enjoyable you nearly forget you’re reading the work of a particularly shrewd and artful writer. Certain parts of The Unoticeables will make you laugh out loud, and certain parts will burrow into your subconscious to be filed away under ‘disturbing shit to suddenly remember at inappropriate times’— and really, what more do you want from a book?