So I found Mr. Cesare via SplatterPunk ‘Zine #5 (sold out – nag the editor for reprints). His short story there, ‘So Bad’, is currently sitting at the top of my very short list for best short horror story of 2014. Then I picked up his novella ‘The First One You Expect’ (reviewed elsewhere on this site – not by me) and thoroughly enjoyed that also. So I decided to check out his novel length work. He’d mentioned on his blog that ‘The Summer Job’ was selling a lot less than his other books, despite in his opinion being of similar quality, and asked people to give it a go and let him know their thoughts.
Happy to oblige, sir.
The Summer Job is a smart, well written, wry, knowing, genre aware (but emphatically not postmodern)witty and genuinely scary horror novel. The lead character, Clare (who still sometimes thinks of herself by her college nickname of Silverfish) is brilliantly realised. Her internal conflict will be one I imagine most horror fans and struggling creative types in general can intimately relate to – the tension between our idealised self image and what we do for money, honey. She’s a smart, funny female character that managed to evoke the very best of the Last Girl traits from horror movies, without once slipping into cliché. She is a well rounded, brilliantly realised creation, and I found myself rooting for her very strongly.
Actually, the cast in general is very well realised. Her co-worker in her new job, her room-mate, Davey the cult leader (who we meet in the prologue), the manager of the hotel she takes the ‘guest liaison’ role at, the creepy chef – Cesare breathes life into all of them, effortlessly eschewing stock characterisation and instead finding real people, with flaws and foibles.
The plot evoked many reference points for me, including The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby (there’s a wonderful dream/hallucination – or was it? – moment fairly early on) and Helter Skelter. This being Cesare, I’m sure there’s others I missed. Crucially though, these elements don’t stick out – rather, they occur to you as flavours in a skilful blend that is unique to the tale being told. The author clearly knows and loves horror, but this is in no way a cheap knock off or pastiche – he builds on the work of the best, but the construction is very much his own.
The prose is slick and quick and witty without ever descending to smartarsery or clever for the sake of it. Several of Claire’s internal descriptions of people or situations made me chuckle, and again they fed that notion of Claire/Silverfish as a real, rounded person. The story cracks along with superb pacing – I got through it in three nights, and I’m a criminally slow reader. I can well imagine taking a Saturday afternoon/evening and devouring this – given the cinematic quality of much of the novel, this might even be the preferred method of consumption. The plot did a superb job of keeping me gripped while playing it’s cards close to the chest – every revelation and twist felt earned, and right to the last page I was kept guessing and surprised, without ever feeling cheated. That’s not an exaggeration, by the way – the ending kicked my ARSE.
I honestly can’t find anything to fault. This is brilliantly written, stunningly assured horror by a writer of genuine talent who has a real love for the genre. More please.
Welcome to Mission, Massachusetts. Praying won’t save you, but it couldn’t hurt.
Claire is an alternative girl looking for an alternative. Her post-college prospects have fizzled and she’s looking for a new job, a new town, a whole new life. A summer position at a remote hotel may be just what she needs.
Very soon, though, she begins to suspect the hotel may have decidedly sinister motives. At the same time she falls back into her old wild ways with the young people of the town, a radical group totally at odds with the sinister leaders of a local cult. Caught between two worlds, Claire has to plot her escape while spiraling deeper into a nightmare of ritual sacrifice and killer parties.