Howdy, GoH fam! Dustin here again with another edition of Recent Reads, where I share my thoughts on the latest horror book I’ve read so you can get to know me and the books a little bit better. For this one we dive into grief horror with Gus Moreno’s This Thing Between Us, Toni Morrison’s classic novel Beloved, and finally, something I could never, ever do without: another slasher-y book with Hailey Piper’s Benny Rose, the Cannibal King. Let’s get started!
This Thing Between Us by Gus Moreno
First published in 2021, and written by Gus Moreno, This Thing Between Us follows a man named Thiago after the death of his wife, Vera. He narrates us through the mysterious circumstances that led to her untimely demise, and how it started with an Alexa-like device known as Itza.
Right off the bat, one unique thing I loved about the book is the second-person POV. I don’t recall encountering a lot of books employing this type of storytelling except for maybe Choose Your Own Adventure books and the like. The difference here is that it’s Thiago telling the story as if it was addressed to Vera. The reason for this is something we find out later and I was so surprised with the explanation for it.
I thought the book was plenty creepy as well. Reading the official synopsis, you’d think it’s closer to your usual haunted house tale but things are not quite what they seem. What it ends up being is something bigger, on a more cosmic horror scale, which is something the cover perfectly encapsulates. The scares in the book can get pretty intense thanks to Gus Moreno’s writing. It isn’t just things bumping in the night but some pretty surreal type of stuff, some of which are akin to what I’ve read in another haunting type book, Scry for Help by Aaron Eischeid, although I dare say it’s in a league of its own. This Thing Between Us is engaging and really puts the reader in Thiago’s shoes. You get descriptions of people who Thiago comes to realize aren’t really people. You get descriptions of people that have died but appear with something off about them.
This is helped by how three-dimensional the character is written. We get to know him (along with Vera and her mom, Diane) in intimate levels thanks to the tragedy that happened. We get to see him in his low points: breaking down and missing Vera, how frustrated he is by the media, politicians, and the like try to politicize what happened to Vera.
Another aspect I’d like to discuss is how the author describes body horror. He compares body contortions and mutations to something we could easily picture in reality, making for a vivid mental image. For instance, an animal with rows and rows of teeth being described as having its mouth open up like a zipper, exposing said teeth, or a void opening and sucking up everything around it like an airplane window.
Then, there’s the creepy haunting type atuff that goes on, too. In the book the Alexa proxy, Itza, can order things for its owners on command. This makes for some seemingly humorous scenarios like the Itza ordering random or silly stuff for our characters on its own, like dildos and swords, which reminds me of the false sense of whimsy brought about by the movie Poltergeist before the book goes into much darker territory. There’s also the creepy footsteps, the sounds from behind the walls that are made more tangible thanks to how true-to-life the characters seem, as well as the vivid descriptions.
Overall, This Thing Between Us by Gus Moreno is a tender look at grief horror that will simultaneously bring on the tears and scares, switching in a heartbeat or in plenty of cases at the same time. It is at once intimate yet also grand in scale; a focused story in a big world with a rip in the wallpaper exposing something heavier and deeper.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Written by Toni Morrison, Beloved is the classic novel first published in 1987 that tells the story of Sethe, a woman who has escaped the clutches of slavery but is still haunted by the traumatic experiences she endured. Years later she and her daughter, Denver, are visited by a mysterious stranger named Beloved. Slowly, Beloved begins to take over Sethe and Denver’s household, peeling back the covers to expose a dark event from Sethe’s past.
One of the aspects I liked about this novel is the author’s prose. It’s not exactly a straightforward read but it does have a stream-of-consciousness way to it that makes for a hypnotic read. It’s also often a nonlinear narrative, which does make for a challenging read but an engaging one nevertheless.
Toni Morrison paints vivid pictures of her characters with the aforementioned prose as the strokes of her brush. It feels very abstract but when looked at as a bigger picture, creates a surreal and colorful piece of work. What at first seemed, to me, a book about a ghostly haunting instead is about the haunting of a horrific past in history. While the supernatural events give way to malicious events to occur for our characters, it instead becomes an element of magical realism. The very real threat of racism and slavery, with the effects on their victims becoming more and more prevalent.
That being said, I wish I was able to approach the story with the mindset that it was more of a drama with horror elements than the usual horror story. I think this hampered my reading experience a bit but this is nevertheless a fulfilling read, and it is no surprise that it’s an enduring classic.
Benny Rose, the Cannibal King by Hailey Piper
Finally, to cap off this iteration is this little novella that packs a punch from author Hailey Piper. Benny Rose, the Cannibal King is a horror novel first published in 2020 that tells the story of a group of teens who fall prey to a local town legend come to life. In 1987 Desiree and friends thought they were in for a Halloween night of pranks, horror movies, and scary storytelling. Little did they know that some stories might be more true than they initially thought.
Hailey Piper’s prose is easy enough to pick up, especially for a reader like myself. Nevertheless, her prose can get surprisingly engaging and transfixing. There are instances where we get into our characters’ heads, particularly our lead Desiree, and it feels like we’re being transported into her situation. It feels weird and kind of hard to explain but that is what it felt like. Like, when she and the gang are being pursued, and she thinks about the stories she heard growing up. Her worries that the monster might be right under their noises. I think Hailey Piper nailed a teenager’s thought process while at the same time having a sense of poignancy with it.
This brings me to another aspect of the book that I liked, and that is the characters. Being a slasher-esque story I expected the archetypes to be there and, this being a book, I just expected those archetypes to be more fleshed out but I was wrong. I don’t think I can fit any of these characters into certain archetypes, except for certain characters but those characters disappear early on so we’re left with the ones who are full realized individuals. The ones that were left absolutely defied any sort of archetype or trope my mind conjured up and instead they stood out as some of the best characters I’ve ever seen in a story like this. They did things I did not expect and that was pretty bold on Ms. Piper’s part.
The story itself was defying tropes but not in the winky way of, say, movies like Scream. This is an organic story not set on satirizing the genre or anything like that. Rather, it felt like the usual story given an expansion, given room to grow past limitations and formula, which surprised me yet again as this is a book that’s not even 200 pages long.
With all this praise about the characters and storytelling, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the gore as well, of which there is plenty. As much as the characters are carefully crafted, the author is unmerciful when it comes to them facing down the threat of this book. An encounter is barely left without injury and each injury gained is a painful one, described in vivid detail. Not vivid in the way of torture porn but vivid enough so the violence feels real and not something our characters can shake off. This adds to the intensity of the story as some characters are left limping for safety or to fight to save themselves, making you root for their survival all the more.
Overall, Hailey Piper’s Benny Rose, the Cannibal King is a refreshing addition to the growing plethora of slasher/slasher-esque books that are crafted with love for the bloody, disgusting genre that is horror yet doesn’t forget that character development, character resilience, and a compelling story go a long way.
And that’s a wrap on this edition of Recent Reads. I got This Thing Between Us and Beloved from Fully Booked, and Benny Rose, the Cannibal King from Book Depository. You can find these books almost everywhere on Amazon, Book Depository, and wherever else books are sold.
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.