"I of course don't remember dying, but I must have" - Mr Joseph
Toby Fairchild and his best friend Frankie are anticipating their summer vacation, but are slightly concerned about what High School might bring when they entere those hallowed halls after the break. For Toby a change in life is headed his way as the Midwestern town of Belford harbours monsters, only too ready to prey on local teenagers, hot chicks he can only dream about, and more adult concerns. Toby will learn over the summer that monsters are real, but they aren't what he expected them to be from his diet of creep shows on television. Unfortunately he will also learn that the Adult world isn't all Brady Bunch sweet either.
After a traumatic event leaves Toby near death he begins to see between the cracks of small town Americana, and discovers not everything is as "apple pie" as he expected. There's inherent racism, mean spirits, and an "eat their own" attitude. On the bright side there are also people who will amaze Toby, like Mr Joseph, the strange old man who lives across the street, and Gloria his first true romance. Can Toby survive his last summer before High school, and will his belief in goodness be shattered for ever more? Brett McBean sends perhaps his best novel to date our way, let's get our groove on and head past the front cover.
The Awakening is the second release in Tasmaniac's outstanding "The Asylum Projects", and continues the strong design, publication professionalism, and collectable nature of the series. What you get is a hardback book in a stunning package that includes an introduction by legendary U.S scribe Ray Garton, and artwork by Erin Wells that will surprise through the course of the novel's pages. One of the highlights for mine is always Tasmaniac's artwork, as stated previously head honcho Stephen Clarke must have a prison camp of Artists he draws, no pun intended, from for each release. It's just how they roll in the Island State. Okay that's the awesome, unfortunately the flip side is The Awakening sold out prior to publication as the twin names of Brett McBean and Tasmaniac proved too much of a siren call for punters. Looks smugly at his signed and numbered edition, no it's not for sale I'm a collector over here and hey I'm going to be reading this tale again and again! Your best bet for snagging a copy therefore would be eBay or sacrificing a young Liberal to the Dark Overlord or something.
[Editor's Note: Please note ScaryMinds does not condone the black arts, but feel free to scarifice a young Liberal to Ronald McDonald.
With The Awakening Brett McBean is taking a departure from his normal Richard Laymon inspired blood trails to visit with Stephen King's mythical middle America. The novel is very much a coming of age outing, in much the same fashion as King's memorable The Body, however it primarily views white small town Americana from the viewpoint of Toby, who is coming to grips with ideas far beyond his fourteen years' worth of life. McBean conjures up small town life with an astounding strong pen that makes you wonder if he isn't really a Yank with a dark secret hiding out in the wilds of Australia. You read it here first! Which is just to say that McBean's township of Belford is hammered out in believable detail, you will fully dig the town, and the denizens hidden in its folds. I haven't read this sort of evocation of small town life in the U.S since touching bases with John Irving or of course Stephen King's stomping grounds of Maine. McBean paints his canvas in rich vibrant strokes that brings to mind dog day afternoons, pretty but strangely vacant streets, and the sort of insular parochialism that thrives in small communities where everyone knows everyone else's business. It's the rural nightmare that exists to a different beat, there's something creepy in out of the way places that harbour their own dark thoughts. Anyone who has lived in a small out of the way town will be right at home with Bedford, about the only thing missing was the whispered scandal that went down in 1952 that is still talked about over backyard fences.
Dropped into the middle America bible/corn/farm belt is of course some dark musing, why we are here yo. However once again McBean demonstrates why he has become Downunder's most appreciated writer of slaughter house rock and why with The Awakening he is branching out into more accessible dark genre musing. With this novel McBean shows he can join the mainstream party with ease, this bad boy wouldn't be out of place on the shelves of those who wouldn't be seen dead grooving to a penny dreadful. Is it McBean's most important novel to date? - it would be a close race with The Mother for mine, but shows McBean is progressing as a Writer able to tackle the deep thoughts and themes with ease.
We're about a third of the way through The Awakening before the forces of chaos descend into our idyllic setting. Without giving too much away, wish I could, McBean comes at the reader with full Haitian voodoo mythos in stunning style. McBean springs a lot of surprises and gives a totally new slant to a recurrent modern horror trend that had me ripping through the pages to find out what would happen next. There's a book within in a book approach that will drive traditional horror fans into frenzies of excitement and that will have the kids who are more atuned to Hollywood brain-dead outings perhaps deciding there's more to the genre than sparkling vampires and serial killers. McBean nails the serious dark genre novel in convincing fashion, this is a book for the ages, and perhaps the best dark genre novel yet to be published in this Country.
But, and here's the crux of the novel, what you may expect to be the thing to fear turns out to be highly benign. How McBean pulls this off is something I'll leave to the reader to discover for him or herself, for sure I was jumping tracks to be on the Author's groove train, and my apologies to the pensioners I pushed out of the way to get there. For those with perhaps more than a passing knowledge of the dark genre, the forces of darkness are invoked with rare insight but they remain on the bench by and largely through the course of the novel, though they do intrude from time to time. It's a nice controlled approach that keeps the focus firmly on Toby's trials and tribulations, while evoking other belief systems, and including an inner story that certainly kept my interest from whoa to go.
Without giving too much away, the real danger for our protagonist Toby is more from human sources both directly and indirectly. If the name Buddy Repperton means anything to you, then you'll know exactly what the direct dangers are. For mine the more insidious danger is the indirect challenges Toby faces from the adults in his world who allow themselves to be manipulated by the small town society they live in. Mr Joseph is an old black man who lives alone and who has been feared by the children of Belford for years, however even though Mr Joseph does have his own dark secret that will entice dark genre fans down certain paths, he is a modulating influence on Toby that brings out the best in the young teen. Naturally since Mr Joseph is alien to Bedford he is the object of ridicule and the target of local bigots, who fear the mutant in their midst. This would be fine if it was restricted to the bogan elements, but the inference from McBean's narrative is the fear of the outside extends not only to Toby's would be girlfriend's parents but also to his own parents. Parochial small town thinking is never a good thing, McBean nails the parochialism and narrow minded outlook of those without exposure tothe more cosmopolitan ideas of larger communities. Naturally since Toby becomes friends with Mr Joseph he also becomes a target for the sort of reaction one would expect from people who see difference as a danger. Not bad for the Author of The Last Motel and The Mother, we're seeing a progression here though I would still argue The Mother is chock full of themes and should have been a foreshadow of what McBean would achieve with The Awakening.
In one of those strange comparisons Reviewers like to make, because hey we ain't your serious Critic, I would favourably compare McBean's themes in The Awakening to those being exposed in arguably John Wyndham's best novel The Chrysalids. Both Authors have a firm grip on the hysteria small communities can sometimes harbour in keeping social norms to the fore. I would also point out that like Wyndham, McBean writes with a sure hand that drags the reader into his tale.
Guess I should also point out the McBean sexes it up to a certain degree. Just pointing that out to ensure I have all the bases covered.
I was pretty impressed with The Awakening, the novel was written in McBean's excellent style of naturalist prose while stretching the Author and putting him outside his normal comfort zone. The novel rivals the best of Stephen King's coming of age prose, while retaining its own beat to deliver a book that will be the best release of 2012. If The Awakening doesn't scoop the awards then there's something very wrong in the judging process. With Tasmaniac providing one hell of a package that will have you moving from the realm of Reader to Collector get ready to get your appreciation on. Full recommendation folks, this is one book you are going to want to read and treasure. Brett McBean continues to impress with a strong narrative style that will have you checking out what else is available from the Author. Actually on that note, if anyone can hook me up to a site with either a hard copy or pdf of Torment I'll drop my pants and do a naked lambada down my street.
[Editor's Note: We're about to order a print copy from Amazon dude, uhmm, no lambada required, the world isn't ready for that nightmare!]
As stated above The Awakening has already sold out prior to publication, how's that for demand, however you can still check out the official page over at Tasmaniac Publications. Brett McBean mantains a website right over here. Oh and look out for our reviews of hopefully three more Bret McBean offerings this year.