Ginger Nuts of Horror
So, I consider myself very lucky to be able to call John Boden a friend. That said, my normal rules for a review apply - I only do this if I finish the book and want to write about it. I start more than I finish, and I finish more than I review. So by all means take a pinch of salt, to taste - but certainly no more than a pinch.
Also, I beta read this novella. The review you are about to read is based not on that beta read, but on the uncorrected proof supplied by the publisher, which did contain some changes, and should be pretty close to the form that ends up in general circulation.
Spungunion is a novella of depth, power, and dark poetry. Deke Larch, truck driver and protagonist, is a compelling character - broken with grief, yet still working, a portrait of a shattered man. The lonely trucker is a classic blue collar noir archetype, of course, but Boden imbues Deke with real humanity and character, not shying away from the broad strokes of the template, but within that using delicate touches to make him real, letting him breathe on the page. Boden manages to engage with many classic tropes without ever seeming remotely cliche, and Deke is a fine example of that.
Similarly Deke’s world - the world of Spungunion - seems to exist in a liminal space between working class poverty and grime, and a grand southern gothic legend. Boden manages the tension between the two forms not by some balancing act of give and take, but rather by committing to both with full blooded intensity. The result is an intense experience, taking in grand themes of classic tragedy alongside earthy, desperate real-world struggle.
The atmosphere of this novella is incredible, coiling around you like boa - and like that snake, once it has you in it’s grip, it starts to squeeze. Boden has an incredibly fluid prose style, a gift for language and metaphor that is poetic and profane all at once. The sparse dialogue rings with authenticity also, as do the people Deke meets on his quest.
At it’s core, this is a quest - one of the oldest stories there is, the quest for knowledge - and Boden pays respect to that great storytelling tradition, without once compromising on his characters, or the wider setting. As a reader, I was swept along on Deke’s journey, feeling often like a ghostly passenger sat beside him as he powered through the night in his big rig.
Powerfully evocative, casually mythic and pounding with urgency and desperation, Spunginion is a lucid, vivid fever dream of a journey with grief that takes us out of the blue and way into the black. It’s an incredible achievement, and, I think, a signifier of even greater things to come.
Spungunion: (pronounced: Spun-Gun-Yun) noun; 1.) a dish made from rotting road kill, usually a skunk or a opossum. The more fragrant or maggoty, the better. 2.) Something that's been on the road for a long and unfortunate time...
This is the story of Deke Larch, a widowed trucker who has lost everything and is struggling to find his place in a world and the person who took it from him. That journey puts him in touch with strange characters and bizarre places. Deke had always felt like he operated on the fringe of society, but he really had no idea...his journey will teach him that monsters are interpretive and sometimes what we think we want is not what we seek at all.
Spungunion is a story about grief and loss, about lonely roads and lost souls, about failure to let go and falling when you finally do. It's about livin' and dyin' and how sometimes the difference between is very slight.
“This trucker’s tale of bloody revenge and harrowing self-illumination takes place in the deepest, strangest veins of the Twilight Zone’s midnight highways. Boden rolls his supernatural mystery down the blacktop surface of the road to Hell, and you’re gonna love the journey into the fire.” – Philip Fracassi, author of Behold the Void, Fragile Dreams and Altar.