Book Review: Touch the Night by Max Booth III

“Deeply unsettling and horrifically harrowing … not for the faint-of-heart but, if you’re brave enough, it is an incredibly entertaining and rewarding read.”

 

TouchtheNightHe is the Editor-in-Chief of Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, the Managing Editor of quarterly horror fiction magazine Dark Moon Digest, and a host on two podcasts: Castle Rock Radio (alongside partner Lori Michelle) and Ghoulish. Max Booth III is also one hell of a writer, with books such as the wildly-entertaining The Nightly Disease (Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, 2017), werewolf bromance Carnivorous Lunar Activities (Cinestate, 2019),  the exceptional and traumatic novella We Need to Do Something (Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, 2020) and many more. Now, through legendary horror publisher Cemetery Dance, he has produced one of the most hotly anticipated indie horror books of the year.

What do two twelve-year-old boys do in 2005 small-town Indiana when they’re having a sleepover, watching horror movies, but can’t sleep thanks to the amorous noises coming from the mother’s bedroom? They do what many kids—including this book’s author—would do, and go on an adventure. But what begins as some adolescent hijinks quickly descends into some heart-stopping horror as Alonzo and Josh stumble from one terrible situation to the next. The two boys are instantly likeable, especially to anyone who is of a certain age and can relate to the era in which they grew up. While Josh is more of a strait-laced kid whose parents are still married (though not necessarily happy about it), Alonzo is more hot-headed and likely to react with his mouth and his fists before his brain can register what is happening.

This is bad news when the boys are racially abused by a garage attendant and subsequently picked up by two police officers. But they aren’t taken directly to the nearest station, and there is definitely something weird and terrifying about the officers. Booth takes a situation that is, unfortunately, all-too-familiar in today’s society, one which is horrifying for normal reasons, and gives it a very Weird horror twist. The young boys are subjected to the kind of hellish nightmare that would send most adults insane with terror when they find themselves at a remote farmhouse occupied by a frightening family of monsters in human-form. Tortured and terrified, the boys must endure hell to try to survive and escape a fate worse than death, a mission by the family that will have dire consequences, and not just for the boys.

While the boys try to escape, their kidnapping hasn’t gone unnoticed. Although the racist sheriff is less than helpful, the mothers are determined to find their kids, no matter what they have to do. Alonzo’s mother (Ottessa) has been raising her son single-handed for a long time, and is as quick-to-temper as Mary (mother of Josh) is mild-mannered. While Jasper, Josh’s father, seems to be more interested in the Baseball World Series and blames his son’s disappointing behaviour on the bad influence of Alonzo, Mary and Ottessa quickly take the law into their own hands in their desperate quest to track down their sons. But they’re hampered every step of the way by the racist attitudes of many of the white inhabitants of Percy, Indiana. Much like the darkness that seems to live within the farmhouse, racial intolerance is like a cancer that is rotting away kindness and decency in the small town. One horror is otherworldly, cosmic, while the other is entrenched in American society thanks to centuries of oppression. Booth manages to knit the two together to strike a very effective balance and create an original and horrific story.

Incorporating many of the storytelling traits we have come to expect from him, Booth has delivered a deeply unsettling and horrifically harrowing story. Some readers may connect with one boy more than the other; perhaps we were the more timid friend in the dynamic, eager to please and eager to follow. Warned off the “troublemaker” by our parents. Or maybe we were that so-called troublemaker, the kind of kid who stood up and didn’t take trouble from anyone. Or maybe those readers with kids will relate with the mothers, some more meek than others, but all of us willing to do whatever it takes to protect our children. Of course, race plays a major role in the story, but Booth never gets “preachy” about it. He doesn’t have to hit the reader over the head with it. But many North American readers will be familiar with some of the racist language and behaviour depicted within these pages. Not that racism is a solely American problem; it didn’t originate there, and ignorance and intolerance are rife throughout the world. But the racism faced by our protagonists will have been witnessed, or experienced, first-hand by many readers, rooting this story firmly in the real world. Then Booth adds the nightmarish and Weird horror that knocks the characters for six, the action described in bloody detail. He makes us see the boys through each other’s eyes, makes us fret for their safety as if we were Mary or Ottessa, and, ultimately, he puts us through a metaphorical “emotional” grinder. This book is not for the faint-of-heart but, if you’re brave enough, it is an incredibly entertaining and rewarding read.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: Cemetery Dance Publications
eBook: 327 (pps)
Release Date: 16 June 2020

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