Ginger Nuts of Horror
By Tony Jones
“Where’s the love? The hippy dream becomes a nightmare in North California
Randomly stumbling upon a novel that completely bowls you over gives the reader an experience which is very hard to beat, Matthew V Brockmeyer’s hypnotising exploration of the hippy dream gone sour does exactly that. “Kind Nepenthe” cleverly walks the plank between horror and thriller, with supernatural elements so subtlety interwoven into this story of industrial growing of marijuana you’ll be intoxicated by the fumes. If you have a bong lurking under your sofa this book will have you quitting once and for all.
Set in a remote part of North California, Humboldt County, Rebecca Hawthorne takes her five years old daughter Megan to a drug farm where she and her loser boyfriend Calendula are being paid to tend, grow and harvest a huge indoor marijuana crop. Rebecca is really gullible, following a misplaced hippy dream, believing the job will help her and her daughter live off the fat of the land and reconvene with nature. But she finds out the reality to be the opposite and the whole operation is industrialised, chemicalised and their remote farm is choked with smoke fumes from the machinery and is completely soul destroying. There is also the stress of trying to keep the equipment working, effectively living on the edge 24/7. Hating it and wanting to leave, her druggy boyfriend convinces her to stay, hoping they can make good money and build a financial stake for other things, whatever that may be.
The book is filled with a mix of very well drawn loser, pathetic and dangerous characters and in many ways Rebecca is an outsider in this world but she can see no way out. Many of the most powerful scenes revolve around this mother daughter relationship. Since arriving her five years old child has started wetting the bed, she also claims to see a ghost boy and has a similar sort of ability to Danny Torrance in King’s “The Shining”. For the sake of her daughter, does Rebecca leave the farm which the locals call Homicide Hill? No, she doesn’t. The fragments of her former life, and brief correspondences with her mother, which are told through flashbacks really help flesh out this very naïve and ultimately tragic woman.
The farm is owned by Coyote, a hippy misfit who may also see ghosts, or at least the ghost of Spider who was the previous owner of the farm and most likely murdered. Although he grows great drugs, profit margins are down, he blows much of the profits on prostitutes, more drugs, and is on a downward spiral which impacts upon Rebecca and her boyfriend. The drug stuff is another powerful element of the book – if you didn’t know anything about how to grow pot before reading this book, you sure will be the time you have finished as it delivers a few techniques from the A-Z handbook. The farm, or perhaps compound is a more apt description, is a dangerous, imposing and filthy place which was little more than a death-trap, but which was utterly brilliantly described oozing with oppressive atmosphere. Charlie Manson himself would have enjoyed hanging out here and various other dropouts turn up who could have come straight out of his family.
The supernatural stuff really is understated and within the context of this short novel it works incredibly well. The plot deviates to ex-con Diesel Dan, his son DJ and pregnant girlfriend Katie, all of whom are meth addicts and whose family previously owned the farm and are still owed money by Coyote and harbour a long-term grudge against him. Of course, the two plots eventually weave together, and I particularly liked the way the author showed the reader how the local rednecks looked down their noses at the fake hippies who thought they were living an alternative lifestyle just because they listened to bands like Phish and The Grateful Dead.
The first half of the book takes its time, fleshes characters out, describing the compound so well the reader can smell the outdoor toilet the child refuses to use. The second half really takes the idea of the hippy dream gone bad to a new level as the otherworldly elements are heightened with some shocking violence and an ending that was both terrific and brutal. This was a highly accomplished debut novel from Matthew V Brockmeyer, published by Black Rose, which I thoroughly recommend.