Andrew David Barker’s novel The Electric isn’t really a horror story. It has ghosts, to be sure, but if you’re looking for creepy, chilling frights, look elsewhere…but only after you’ve read The Electric. This is an extraordinary book, a beautiful tale of loss, of teenage alienation and filmmaking and what it means to not just create art, but to want to create art. An urge that sets the drawing hand to shaking and lights the imagination on fire.
As enjoyable as it is, The Electric doesn’t lack flaws. Awkward phrasing and run-on sentences created some stumbling blocks; at times, I found myself having to re-read certain passages to divine their meaning. My other concern was the complete lack of an antagonist. Whenever one threatens to thwart protagonist Sam Crowhurst, it fades away quickly as a non-event. This presented a feeling of safety in the text, an assurance of inevitability that everything would indeed play out as required, and hence eliminated the necessary dramatic element of tension.
Despite this, the novel is a book to be drawn into, one that keeps you turning the pages. The love triangle of Emma, Sam, and David was realistically drawn with the ins and outs of young teenage infatuation. Sam’s loss of his father and subsequent alienation from his mother in the wake of terrible grief also strikes home, very keenly. These are real people, all of them, including Mean Stare Mandrake.
Barker’s love of celluloid animates the text, giving what might have been a ho-hum haunting element true depth and character. His knowledge of Bogie’s films, of Jean Harlow and Peter Lorre and other classic film greats is breathtaking in that he doesn’t just describe how they were, but shows you what they might be and do and think after they’ve gone.
Emotional without being maudlin, The Electric gives us glimpses of the world beyond death, and some of death’s landscape is quite disturbing. Some spirits rest and some don’t, and the ones who don’t might show up in a dilapidated cinema one day. If you’re not lucky enough to stumble upon one in your daily travels, read The Electric instead. You’ll be glad you did.