Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Hell Hollow

Coming of age stories have always been big in the horror genre. Stephen King’s It, Robert R. McCammon’s Boy’s Life, and Dan Simmons’ Summer of Night are just a few of the classics that have explored this theme. Ronald Kelly’s next book, Hell Hollow, fits into this sub-category, and it holds its own quite nicely against the aforementioned books.

Ninety years ago, terrible things happened in rural Hawkshaw County, Tennessee, near the Town of Harmony. An evil man named Augustus Leech came to the community, selling quack medicine that purported to cure ills, but instead, poisoned twelve small children. The adults of Harmony took their revenge on Leech, and since, his bones have lain in the supposedly haunted area called Hell Hollow. But evil doesn’t die easily, and a killer on the run from the law will intersect with those remains to bring old horror anew to Harmony.

The book focuses on four kids, Keith McLeod from Atlanta, forced to spend the summer with his (in his mind) bumpkin grandfather (who had his own encounter with Leech when he was a child), his cousin Rusty, Maggie, and their wheelchair-bound friend Chuck. In a summer of discovery, they, and a rape victim named Alison set on revenge, will be the only ones who can stop Leech and save Harmony.

Since the horror boom of the eighties, a lot of writers have forgotten a basic rule: If you don’t develop your characters and bring them to life, readers won’t care what happens to them. Too many authors have gone for gore over substance, and as a result, a lot of modern books seem inconsequential. If you don’t care whether a character lives or dies, it doesn’t matter how gory his death scene is written.

Ronald Kelly (The Sick Stuff, Midnight Grinding, Fleshwelder) is old school, and I mean that with the highest possible praise. Although his writing does deliver the shocks, as seen in his popular collection The Sick Stuff as well as this novel, he takes the time to let us get to know Alison, the four kids, Keith’s grandfather, and others, so by the time we get to the climax of the story, their struggles have meaning for us. Kelly also does a great job capturing the rhythms of rural Southern life.

Coming in at around 500 pages, this is a long novel, but it doesn’t read like one. When I became too busy to read after I received this, I took a day’s annual leave to finish it up. Hell Hollow is slated for an October or November release from Cemetery Dance Publications, and I can’t recommend it enough. You can pre-order it by clicking here. I’m looking forward to receiving the official release from Cemetery Dance to read it again. The beautiful cover artwork is by Alex McVey.

A note to readers from a more urban setting, or maybe just for those from outside the South: It may seem strange that a rural Bible-Belt Southern town would have an area called Hell Hollow, but it’s not. I grew up in an extremely rural part of Alabama, and we had local sections called Hellacious Acres (a cool name, I think) and our own Creepy Hollow, where an old bridge spanned a narrow creek in a place where heavy forest growth cut out all light, and strange noises were heard in the dark. It was traditional for us to take dates to Creepy Hollow, park on the bridge (it got no traffic to speak of), then “discover” our cars would mysteriously refuse to start once our date reached the point where she demanded we leave the scary place. Hey, if you’re not good looking enough to make them cling to you, scaring them can work in a pinch.


Kent said...

There's an unincorporated town called Hell in Michigan.

Boring tidbit.

KentAllard said...

I thought that was a nickname for Ann Arbor.

Ronald Kelly said...

There's a town called Fly in Tennessee. Most of the time it's open...

KentAllard said...

When I was in college, we played a basketball game against Austin Peay, who at the time had a star player named Fly Williams. So the cheerleaders would chant "The Fly is open, let's go Peay."

Rabid Fox said...

I must take another crack at reading a Ron Kelly novel sometime. I tried "Fear," but it didn't appeal to me at all. This one could be just the trick.