Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Invisible Fences

About a year ago, my wife bought me a year’s subscription to the Cemetery Dance Book Club. It’s a very good deal; for $199 you receive 13 CD releases, one a month or so. Even though they’re running about six months behind, this remains a good deal. One of the things everyone was excited about upon sign-up was the inclusion of an ARC (Advanced Review Copy) of a forthcoming book. These books, modestly bound, are sent out months in advance of publication so reviewers will be able to publish their reviews at the time of publication. This had people quivering with anticipation. We were going to get a new book from Stephen King or Brian Keene or another mega-famous author before everyone else, and we would be too cool for school. The ARC was one of the first books to be received, and it was by … Norman Prentiss. The initial reaction was intense. We wouldn’t be able to read a Stephen King novel before everyone else. We wouldn’t get rich selling it on ebay.

We didn’t know how lucky we were.

Norman Prentiss isn’t as well known as King or Keene, which means we wouldn’t have rushed to purchase his short novel Invisible Fences. And we would have missed a real gem. I started Invisible Fences one morning when I had a little extra time before work. I intended to read a chapter or so, but if there is a criticism I have of the story, it is there is no stopping point. I was late to work that day.

The story starts in Maryland, in the 1970s. A brother and sister, Nathan and Pam, live with their protective parents. Their father tells them stories of the horrible things that happen to kids who cross busy highways, who go into the woods by themselves, and so on, in order to keep them from doing the same dangerous things. In effect, erecting “invisible fences” like those used for pets around his children (this is one of those metaphors that is so perfect, you feel envious for not having thought of it yourself). But no fence is completely impervious to children, and the kids pass through them, with life-altering results.

The second part of the book takes place in Alabama, where the family moves, and involves a grown-up Nathan coming to grips with his past. I won’t give anything away, except to tell you it is a ghost story (although you could certainly interpret it in non-supernatural terms if you wish).

The story most closely reminded me of the work of the late Charles L. Grant, who was the dean of the school of so-called “quiet horror”, although I liked Invisible Fences better than Grant’s work. Although it is short, Prentiss brings his characters to vivid life, and makes you feel some of their angst and turmoil, like good writers do. This could be the beginning of a great career, and I’m eager to see what Prentiss does next.

The book is scheduled for publication in December of 2008 (now, basically), but has not yet appeared for pre-order on Cemetery Dance’s website. I’ll post an ordering link when it does.


John Hornor Jacobs said...

Norman is a really nice guy. On my last reject from Cemetery Dance, he wrote a personalized note, encouraging me. And I met him at WHC in SLC, and he was very well spoken and generous with his publishing knowledge.

He witnessed my gaff at trying to joke around with F. Paul Wilson. Thinking I'd be funny, I asked (Dr.) Wilson, "All these folks at the convention are asking you about writing, technique, and editor pet peeves. Do you ever just wish they'd ask you to give them a script or what to do about their bad back?"

I thought it was funny. He most definitely did not. He looked down his long nose (and it is a very long nose) and said, "Absolutely not," and then turned back to the bit of fluff who was chatting him up.

I was somewhat chagrined. It's a good thing I was drunk.

KentAllard said...

I've heard nothing but positive things about him. Seems to be one of the good guys.

Sorry to hear the Wilson story. I don't understand how people can live in this world without a sense of humor.