Before picking up Wrath James White’s new book The Resurrectionist I had heard some very good things about his Mass Market PB debut, Succulent Prey. Well, the demands of life got in the way and I never wound up picking up Succulent Prey.
The Resurrectionist firmly belongs in the category of “hardcore” horror fiction, a sub-genre that includes Edward Lee, some of the work of Jack Ketchum and even the late-great Richard Laymon. The “hardcore” movement is often unjustly maligned as being “torture porn,” but when executed by responsible writers who know what they’re doing: this is never the case. White’s novel is a perfect example of this type of writing done well. There is an abundance of gore and sexualized violence but it is all placed in a bigger socio/political/spiritual context that provides food for thought between grisly murders.
The premise is a quite ingenious one. It concerns Dale, a young man who finds that he has the miraculous power to heal the dead when he witnesses the murder of his mother at the hands of his father. Instead of being the second coming, Dale gets addicted to the thrill of violence and uses his power to resurrect the people he brutally murders. His victims have no recollection of the attacks, until Sarah. Sarah is Dale’s beautiful new neighbor and she must piece together the puzzle of her and her husband’s multiple deadly (and sexual) assaults before Dale can do it again.
White moves the story along briskly and is careful to not linger too long on the murder set pieces involving Sarah and her husband (which happen with such frequency they would become redundant if White chose to expand on them all) . The pace does slow down a little in the second half of the novel with the introduction of the police-procedural elements, but these are necessary to move the “pieces into place” for the surprising, satisfying and well-earned ending.
A section of the book that warrants specific mention is its timeliness. One of the main complaints people usually have about many different kinds of horror stories (haunted house, stalker, etc) is “why don’t the protagonists just run away?” White uses the real-life economic crisis as a means to keep Sarah and Josh afraid to leave their home, to keep Josh afraid to lose his job. In fact, if it were not for the housing crisis and its foreclosures, Dale would never have been able to move in next door. This is an example of many of the thematic threads woven into the main plot.
Readers who are tired of stories set in small New England towns and their surrounding woods will be glad to know that The Resurrectionist is set in Las Vegas. The setting of the novel is also used to comment on several of theses themes (overt sexuality, sensory over-stimulation, moral and economic erosion) in a very sly way. Not only are the big Vegas landmarks used but it is the smaller details that make the city pop and the setting feel very much lived-in.
White makes the reader think about the media they are consuming and the effects it has (Sarah is writing her dissertation on the effects of pornography on the psyche, but starts to shy away from that topic after her multiple victimizations). He has his characters raise questions about spirituality and the possibility of God. Most importantly, though, Wrath James White possesses that rare talent that only the best of the hardcore authors has: he is able to emotionally kick you in the face.
If you are a reader with a strong constitution I encourage you to pick up a copy. I look forward to reading more of his work in the future and have already ordered Succulent Prey.*
*Which is only $2.99 from Dorchester’s website (along with several other good buys that include Jack Ketchum’s collection Peacable Kingdom which I also whole-heartedly endorse).