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Book Review: Beneath by Kristi DeMeester

“In her debut novel  Beneath, DeMeester has sharpened the blade of her literary shovel and unearthed one of the most upsetting and horrifying tomes of dark fiction in recent memory.”

 

For the past few years, author Kristi DeMeester has made her mark on horror and weird fiction through short stories, creating unforgettably creepy tales of heartbreak, pain, and loss. Now, in her debut novel Beneath, DeMeester has sharpened the blade of her literary shovel and unearthed one of the most upsetting and horrifying tomes of dark fiction in recent memory.

In the late 1980s, Cora Mayburn is a journalist from Atlanta sent to a small town in North Carolina to do a report on the snake-handling fundamentalist churches of Appalachia. Almost from the beginning of the novel, though, the readers are let in on the very, very real possibility that there is a darkness in this town–one that is deeper and more powerful than anyone is prepared for. That darkness permeates the community through the children, and faith alone isn’t enough to keep the beasts at bay. With each rock Cora turns over in her investigation, a dozen more monstrosities slither out and the darkness deepens, broadens, and rises from below.

Beneath is profoundly horrific. It is not a novel for the squeamish, shy, or easily offended. It’s full of equal parts sexuality and religion, acknowledging and coping with abuse, victimhood, and untethered impulses. Beneath dips into humanity’s worst qualities and amplifies them into something darker, then shoves your face in it and forces you to see how the darkness has been here the entire time, whether you chose to acknowledge it or not. We’re avoiding spoilers beyond theme, but let’s just say that if you can imagine a trigger warning for something, DeMeester has it in her novel. In spades. Brutally, unflinchingly, and unapologetically.

If there’s a fault to Beneath it’s that DeMeester’s dreamlike prose can sometimes feel like a ball of snakes. Dreams and reality slip over each other, and it can make a reader lost in logic gaps. Is it actually happening to the characters, or are they only imagining it? Which end is the head, which is the tail? The only way to tell is to power through, sometimes for a few pages, to see the repercussions of the scene so you can parse out a conclusion.

The weird fiction novel is a hard artifact to dig up intact without it crumbling to dust, but DeMeester’s unwavering vision for Beneath makes it a gem in that genre. Religious fervor and sinister sexuality beat at the heart of this novel, and as it claws its way up to a shocking, satisfying conclusion, readers will be left breathless and altered, desperate for whatever DeMeester has planned for us next.

JAKE MARLEY

 

Publisher: Word Horde
Paperback: (254pp)
Release Date: 30 April 2017

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Buy Beneath by Kristi DeMeester here.

 


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