Book Review: Everything Is Beautiful and Nothing Bad Can Ever Happen Here by Michael Wehunt

“Thanks to the talent of a gifted storyteller, it is easy for the reader to relate to the main character’s journey, from her sheltered beginning to the final, difficult revelation.”

 

Everything Is Beautiful and Nothing Bad Can Ever Happen Here by Michael Wehunt -coverHe has been writing and publishing short stories for almost a decade, to great critical acclaim as evidenced by the 2016 Shirley Jackson Award nomination and appearance on the shortlist for the 2017 Crawford Award for his debut collection, Greener Pastures. Indeed, many within the horror community are familiar with the work of Michael Wehunt and have been eagerly awaiting more work. Thankfully, that wait is over. And the thanks should go to Nightscape Press and their line of Charitable Chapbooks.

The idea of using high quality, limited editions of work by some of the most exciting voices in horror and weird fiction to raise money and awareness for good causes began in May 2018 when Nightscape released their first, Jon Padgett’s The Broker of Nightmares, which quickly sold out. The idea is simple: a third of all sales from each book will go to a charity selected by the author. Not only does the reader have the choice of owning a limited-edition physical copy (ebook editions are also available) of a story from one of their favourite authors, they also have the opportunity to donate to a cause that is close to the author’s heart. In Michael Wehunt’s case, this is the Southern Poverty Law Center which, from their own mission statement, “is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Using litigation, education, and other forms of advocacy, the SPLC works towards the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be a reality”. It is sad that such an organisation must exist, but the reasons for its existence have become front-page news in recent years and should not be ignored.

“Equality” is a theme central to Everything Is Beautiful … as Wehunt explores the simmering tension of race relations in America. Using the fictional town of Fontaine Falls, he describes, through the eyes of white, middle-class wife and mother of two Bea Holcombe, the fall-out after a protest against a statue of a confederate governor (in this case, real-life North Carolina Governor, and Confederate military officer Zebulon Vance). In a time where such things are at the forefront of life in America, the story unfolds as a small group of liberal demonstrators who see such monuments as glorifying a philosophy of intolerance and hatred (indeed, as a child, Vance’s family owned eighteen slaves), are targeted by a lone gunman. The whole event shatters Bea’s wholesome image of her small hometown. Something she has only seen in news reports and has only thought of as something that happens elsewhere, but never in Fontaine Falls, invades her life and opens her eyes.

As more details are revealed about the attack, Bea is horrified to discover that the hatred was closer to home than she would ever have imagined as the gunman is revealed to be a neighbour of the Holcombe’s. Her reaction is one no doubt shared by most people privileged to live in a world untouched by such violence who is suddenly and traumatically exposed to it – she is horrified, but curious. She needs to understand how someone with such terrible beliefs could be in her outer circle of acquaintances without her realising. Given the proximity of their homes, she has a unique opportunity to investigate but, in true Michael Wehunt style, the story takes a weird and sinister turn.

 No matter how weird the story gets, the depth of the central theme is never lost on the reader. Wehunt uses the genre element to add even more tension to the story, keeping us gripped as Bea’s curiosity results in some terrible personal revelations, as well as some supernatural encounters. But, despite the otherworldly strangeness, the main issue prevails and we see Bea discover a great deal about her own beliefs and how they relate to the bigger picture in American society. Thanks to the talent of a gifted storyteller, it is easy for the reader to relate to the main character’s journey, from her sheltered beginning to the final, difficult revelation. Wehunt holds a mirror up to a modern America which, despite making some progress, still finds itself haunted by a poisonous past and struggling to break free. However, it is clear from this wonderful book that there is still hope for a more inclusive future of equality, as long as we continue to educate ourselves and progressive publishers continue to give voice to gifted authors like Michael Wehunt.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: Nightscape Press
eBook: 77 pp
Release Date: 4 November 2019

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