Hello, GoH friends! Dustin here with another round of Recent Reads. For this one, we have three reads with long titles, and I swear that wasn’t intentional. There’s Eric David Roman’s LGBTQ+ conversion camp slasher, Long Night at Lake Never (released before the recent They/Them film on Peacock), Eric LaRocca’s latest puzzle, You’ve Lost a Lot of Blood, and Iain Reid’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things, as well as Baby Teeth. Let’s get into them!
Long Night at Lake Never by Eric David Roman
First published in 2021, with a gorgeous new 2022 cover as you can see, Long Night at Lake Never is a slasher novel by author Eric David Roman. We follow Tyler, an outed gay teen sent to a conversion therapy camp for LGBTQ+ youth. While he quickly makes friends, the camp’s oppressive methods seem to trigger a murderous rampage that will leave none unscathed.
Undeniably strong-willed, the protagonist gets so much sh*t thrown his way yet refuses to back down. He’s defiant and unashamed to be gay, which is pretty empowering and inspiring to read. His heart is broken that the people he loves are unable to accept him, but that doesn’t mean he thinks the right course of action would be to back down from who he really is. It’s not just blind defiance either, as Tyler knows his stuff and is quick to clap back at the oppressors that he meets at camp.
The cast of campers (called Journeyers) is rounded out by a non-binary character, a jock who’s slowly discovering who he is, as well as a religious kid who’s there voluntarily—all of whom are pretty interesting in their own right and mostly likable. There are also the camp counselors called Guides who are there for various reasons, but the Big Bad that runs the show is Bob who may or may not have some deep-seated history at the camp. His bunch is rounded out by several folks who have a lot of issues to work through.
As the first night at camp progresses, the killer comes out to play… and he plays very well. The book does not skimp on the gore. The kills are plenty brutal and make even seasoned readers cringe. The book is set in modern day but the carnage is pure old-school ’80s slasher goodness ala Friday the 13th.
Speaking of old-school, there aren’t many slasher books like Long Night at Lake Never, with one of the closest comparisons I could come up with is Camp Carnage. While they share a conversion therapy camp setting, what’s interesting about Long Night at Lake Never, and what sets it apart, aside from the unapologetically queer characters and gruesome gore, is the modern day setting. This makes for some interesting scenarios as it brings awareness to the issue of conversion therapy camps.
There’s still so much to work on but society is more progressive now than when such camps were booming. I applaud the book for taking a strong standpoint that these camps are evil. There’s no ambiguity or argument made in support of them. I think this also contributes to making an isolated slasher setting. These camps have become more secretive as they are increasingly frowned upon, so Camp Horizons has a policy where they confiscate the kids’ as well as the Guides phones throughout their stay.
Finally, the book gets the balance of creepy and campy just right for a summer camp slasher. The kills feel aptly playful but you can tell they’re written with glee that only a slasher fan could love. The stances our characters have against the camp’s practices are strong and serious but they also make good clap backs for when their oppressors try to shut them down. The book knows the gravity of impact that these camps can have, but smartly conveys this to the reader in a way that doesn’t feel exploitative, knowing also that the reader is here is to see bloody justice done on the page.
Overall, Long Night at Lake Never is a solid slasher novel that’s tightly paced with plenty to say against prejudice towards queer people. There is a sense of rage throughout the book that comes from putting queer people in a box of cisgender heteronormativity and it feels cathartic to see that rage acted upon, balanced with actions towards non-violent justice.
You’ve Lost a Lot of Blood by Eric LaRocca
Published in early 2022, You’ve Lost a Lot of Blood is the newest book by author Eric LaRocca. It is a “compilation” of a serial killer’s works including diary entries, poems, recordings, and a novella that tie it all together to describe their life.
The prose the author showcased in Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke is back with a vengeance, and then some. Eric LaRocca’s writing style in the mindset of their main character is so beautifully written. It’s like poetry in prose form, if that makes sense. It has a form of prose that is present and consistent throughout the whole book, but reaches its peak during the recorded discussions between the serial killer and his partner. Poems are also interspersed throughout, and though I’m not much of a poem reader, the language used in them is so beautiful that it caught even my attention. Interestingly, the novella is also written in a different style, but it doesn’t lose your attention. The writing is so gorgeous and engaging throughout that I just flew through this book in a few days.
This one, like Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke, isn’t an all-out splatterfest but it is still disturbing in that the that mutilation and distortion of human bodies is portrayed as simple, benign art. It’s hard to explain much without spoiling it.
One of the only flaws,(which isn’t necessarily the book’s fault) is that there’s more than one story being presented. The novella is a story within the story; of the two storylines it is the far more engaging plot, so much so that the serial killer sections of the book didn’t connect with me like the novella sections.
There’s also the matter of how everything ties together, and there is a vague explanation at the end but it’s still largely left up to the reader’s interpretation. One will be left to ponder it for quite some time, piecing it together.
Overall, I thought this was a strong read. The prose and the novella primarily carried it for me but there wasn’t a single thing I would cut out of this atmospheric book.
Baby Teeth by Jessica Guess
Published in 2018, Baby Teeth is a psychological horror-thriller from author Zoje Stage. Told from dual perspectives, it’s the story of a mother and her daughter, locked in a battle of wits as the latter will do everything it takes to get the former out of the family picture. Is it nature or nurture that’s at fault?
I absolutely loved this book. While the main source of conflict is a troubled child, it feels like such a grounded tale that could plausibly happen in real life. The central characters are also believable people. While there is that conflict, the book does a good job of weaving a large gray area that doesn’t broadly paint characters as plainly good or evil.
The mother character, Suzette, already has enough on her plate with a physical illness that she’s been dealing with since she was young. She’s also had a childhood that’s less-than-stellar, to say the least. She has to grapple with these experiences while raising her child, applying what she’s learned. This begs the question among questions that hang above the characters and the reader: Is she partly to blame for how her kid is turning out or is it something that’s always been hardwired in?
We also get the story from the daughter, Hanna’s perspective. She seems like an average child, but at the same time, she’s smart enough to know how things work in the adult world. She’s at an age where she still make-believes but tries to apply this to reality, which can manifest in ways like believing that someone is a witch that must be killed and knowing the medicine this person takes so she can mess with her. Surprisingly, there are also instances where the two make sort of a twisted connection as some of Hanna’s actions parallel some of Suzette’s when she was younger.
The book leaves plenty to the imagination in more ways than one. While Hanna does have violent tendencies, the author understands the strength in restraining from excessive violence and gore. The situations that Hanna and Suzette find themselves in start small and petty, spiraling downwards towards events that can produce disturbing outcomes. To reiterate, the novel smartly doesn’t aim to point fingers, rather it puts us in the mindsets of these two characters enough to understand why they do what they do, while also placing the narration in a third person perspective, allowing the reader to think about the factors at play that cause changes in the human condition, which affect one generation to the next, and then back again.
Overall, Baby Teeth is an effective mind-f*cker that, while following tropes of the creepy kid subgenre, still manages to keep the reader guessing and engaged in a story with themes of parenthood, childhood, and generational trauma.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid
Written in 2016, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a psychological horror-thriller by Iain Reid. It tells the story of a woman who goes with her boyfriend to meet his parents. The trip has a rocky start with her thinking of “ending things” with her beau but their situation gradually takes a turn (or several) into nightmarish territory.
After a really thought-provoking read with Baby Teeth, I thought about jumping into something cozy and lighthearted. So why did I jump into a book that’s anything but? Perhaps I was already pumped up by the last read! That said, this is definitely quite the dark read. Full disclosure: I’ve actually seen the movie first so the twist at the core of both versions of the story may have affected my experience reading the book.
This is a book that definitely knows how to make the reader uncomfortable with circumstance after circumstance of something not feeling right. For instance, there’s a string of unanswered phone calls that seem more dire as they come in but are never answered, philosophical discussions between the two main characters zero in on very personal and traumatic events, places being familiar to the lead even though she’s never been there before, things appearing in places where it’s not supposed to be. I’d hesitate to call this cosmic horror but it does bring about a similar kind of dread without actually belonging to the genre. There’s something in the works that’s beyond the main character’s control that affects her directly—sort of a mysterious god-like force that dictates her narrative.
After piling on the eeriness and tension, the book rolls into a final act that takes the story to a sad resolution that’s always been there throughout the narrative, and it’s at this point where the pieces of the puzzle come together. If you’re into it, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is not a book you read only once.
That said, it’s not like the book info-dumps on the reader. The author lays out all of the items for the reader plainly but you come to connect the dots yourself after a crucial reveal. What’s revealed is so tragic and so sad that really makes you feel for the characters and what they went through, and what could have been. It’s a lonely life of missed opportunity full of what-could-have-been’s and what-actually-was.
I believe similar twists like the ones in the book have been employed in other narratives before but not to something as satisfactory and as effective as here. Most other cases where the twist is employed feel like a cop-out, but the story is able to display the weight of the twist. I think it does this because the book works without being reliant to it. It stands on its own with the twist adding to the plot instead of distracting from it.
Overall, I’m Thinking of Ending Things stays true to its promise of unsettling the reader without excess, building up tension in uncomfortable amounts, sustaining it, and sort of turns it on its head.
And that’s it for this round of Recent Reads. Hope you found yourself some books to add to your TBR or if you have suggestions, feel free to throw them our way! You can get these through your favorite online bookstores or wherever books are sold.
More Book Reviews
As a new fan of Fear Street, largely thanks to the pretty dang good film trilogy put out by Netflix (check out our reviews here, here, and here!), I’ve made… Published while he was still in college, Bret Easton Ellis’ debut novel Less Than Zero (1985) established themes of isolation and excess still present in his work today. The narrator,… I love me a unique creature feature book and what better one to plunk down and read than Tim Lebbon’s The Silence? You might have seen the Netflix adaptation that… Grady Hendrix is turning out to be a very entertaining voice in the horror lit community, and for me, it’s not hard to see why. With his hybrid of dark…
As a new fan of Fear Street, largely thanks to the pretty dang good film trilogy put out by Netflix (check out our reviews here, here, and here!), I’ve made…
Published while he was still in college, Bret Easton Ellis’ debut novel Less Than Zero (1985) established themes of isolation and excess still present in his work today. The narrator,…
I love me a unique creature feature book and what better one to plunk down and read than Tim Lebbon’s The Silence? You might have seen the Netflix adaptation that…
Grady Hendrix is turning out to be a very entertaining voice in the horror lit community, and for me, it’s not hard to see why. With his hybrid of dark…
Dustin is a horror fan and sometimes short story writer who hails from the Philippines. He likes a lot of the horror genre but usually goes for slashers and arthouse/slowburn stuff. Currently, he’s trying to make up for lost time in the horror literature world by digesting as many horror books as he can.