In my last review for Ginger Nuts of Horror, I compared horror fiction to being like like a tree where different stylistic branches and roots all feed into the central trunk of the horror genre. Where James Everington's Trying to be so Quiet is a perfect example of quiet horror, J.R. Park's Upon Waking is a blood soaked extreme horror novel, you couldn't find a more disparate pair of books if you tried, and yet they are linked in many ways to the parental trunk of the horror tree.....
You never quite know as to what goes on behind closed doors. Even in this day and age of social media, neighborhood watches and surveillance cameras on what feels like every second lamp post, as soon as that front door closes and the curtains are drawn shut on the net curtains anything is possible. A posh suburban street can be home to some of vilest residents with dark nasty secrets and you would be none the wiser. The veneer of respectability can be very thin indeed easily ripped away to reveal a dark and twisted heart pumping underneath.
Upon Waking features just such a street with a nice big house in a quiet residential area, home to a cleaning obsessed Cassie, who much like the street is outwardly jovial and friendly but lurking
underneath her motherly appearance lies a monster of epic proportions.
As the residents, or more correctly the prisoners, of Cassie's house wake up, the true horror of her nature is laid out in front of us like a horror themed buffet.
There is feeling among certain elements of the horror world that feel that extreme horror fiction is bereft of merit, and while in some instances this may well be the case in certain instances, however, it is books like Upon Waking that show this isn't always the case as it fails to take into account that extreme horror is capable of great writing as well.
Be warned while this novel may start of like an episode of an early evening BBC drama, where we are introduced to some of the cast of the novel, it very quickly takes a left turn into abject urban horror, via a wonderfully written piece of taught quiet horror. Emily's linking segment which introduces us to Kathryn is one of the highlights of the novel. What starts as a seemingly innocuous chapter soon turns into a tight, claustrophobic piece of writing that acts as the perfect segue into the dark heart of the book.
Emily's chapter shows that J.R,, Park is not merely a writer of extreme horror, it admirably shows that he can induce fear in the reader via a much more subtle use of horror. Emily's feelings of paranoia when she believes that she has been home invaded is handled with a canny eye and is in many ways far more terrifying for it, than the far more in your face horror of what is to come.
It is when we enter Cassie's abode that the shroud of quiet horror is thrown aside to reveal the sheer bloodcurdling horror of a woman born out of our most primal nightmares.
Cassie is a fascinating character, outwardly a jovial, a motherly neat freak, who loves cleaning almost as much as she loves inflicting truly horrible deaths on those who enter her house. The dichotomy of her two personalities is handled with a lot of care, Park never paints her as an obtuse caricature, despite her devilish ways she never turns into a forced and false character. She remains utterly believable and at time almost likeable. Her goodnatured warm heart is very inviting, despite it being revealed to us very early on in the narrative the depths of depravity that she is relishes diving down to.
The extreme graphic nature of this story is certainly not for the feint of heart. Park splatters the page with blood, guts, and all manner of other bodily fluids with wild abandon, you get the feeling that he was grinning from ear to ear while writing this story, and it show on the page. Even at it's most sexually perverted blood soaked extreme, there is hint of a cheeky grin to the writing style, which helps to stop the narrative from becoming too over the top. This novel could easily have slipped into farce territory, devoid of any merit, however Park knows the genre too well to allow this to happen, he keeps a firm hand on the depravity framing it with a boundary of naturalistic characters, and confident writing.
Upon Waking is novel that will challenge you as a reader, with it's powerful mix of sexually charged ultra-violence and wonderfully evocative images of torture it comes across almost like a Reader's Wives version of Hellraiser, and I mean that with the highest praise such is the strength of the story on show here.