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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Horror Review: Brood X & Stillwell by Michael Phillip Cash

An apocalyptic nightmare of one family's struggle for survival, Brood X (A Firsthand Account of the Great Cicada Invasion) is a tightly plotted, dramatic tale that makes the most of its found footage approach. Michael Phillip Cash has taken a bit of a risk here with a narrative structure that generally works better on the screen than on the page, but it all pays off in the end.

The novel begins, as the stories often do, in medias res - with the hospital under siege, and a war-weary paramedic cajoling a pair of security guards into watching whatever footage is on this video camera he found. It's actually a cleverly structured opening, as Cash is very careful not to give anything away that might spoil the tale or negate the sense of drama. We don't know precisely what has happened to the world, and we don't know how he came by the camera or what happened to its owner.

From there, we're taken back in time to the previous autumn, as Seth and Lara begin documenting her pregnancy with the video camera. It's not strictly a found footage tale, as we see more than the camera does, but the video camera is a prominent feature of each scene. We watch, over the next nine months, as they begin preparing for the baby, and as they begin wondering and worrying about the doomsday cicada invasion that the media is warning about. Seth doesn't buy it for a minute, and that reluctance to follow the masses haunts them more and more as grocery stores begin running out of simple things like batteries and water, as gas stations run dry, and as more and more people begin fleeing the northeast in panic.

Complicating matters is the arrival of Marni and Dominic, friends of Lara who come to stay when they're evicted from their own house. The introduction of another couple into a family's life can be stressful enough on its own, especially when there's a baby on the way, but it's with the rapid consumption of stockpiled food and water that the tension really begins to mount. By the time they all realize they're in way over the heads, and aren't at all prepared for the overwhelming, suffocating, murderous swarm, it's far too late.

Most of the short novel is set-up and setting the scene, building the fear, and building the anticipation. We don't actually see the bugs until the last third, and that actually helps the reader feel the impact. Cash has put a lot of thought into just what an apocalyptic invasion of four-inch cicadas might looks, sound, and feel like. He's thought long and hard about what their mere presence might do to civilization, and just how insidious they might be in their ability to invade our homes and our lives. Most importantly, he's thought about what it might feel like to be brought down by the weight of a swarm, to feel them stinging you, and to have their parasitic eggs laid beneath your flesh . . .

I will stop there, for fear of spoiling anything further, but I will say this is a read that surprised me with how powerfully frightening it was. Brood X is everything the media warned of - and more - and Cash is determined to drag us through it, kicking and screaming, to the very end. A solidly horrific read that will leave you scratching at imagined bugs all night long.


Kindle Edition, 309 pages
Published April 16th 2013 by Red Feather Publishing

αωαωαωαωαωαωαω

The gloomy, sorrowful Stillwell (A Haunting on Long Island) is a ghost story of layers. It's a story of memories and monsters, and of history and haunting. Michael Phillip Cash leads us into things with the story of a heartbroken man, mourning the loss of his wife, who can't help seeing, smelling, and hearing her throughout the house. His youngest daughter sees her too but, fortunately, she's oblivious to the hairy beast that Paul cannot separate from his wife.

Cash then leads us into the story of a Gothic old mansion, haunted by the recent murder-suicide of the couple who owned it. The couple's children are long-time friends of Paul, and selling their family home is his ticket out of mourning, and back into the career that nearly slipped away from him during his wife's illness. Not only does the house seem to be haunted by their deaths, but by the death of the first young woman to live there long ago.

While this is, in every respect, a ghost story, it does not rely exclusively upon the supernatural to deliver its chills. In fact, how one reads it is entirely up to the reader - either as a story of mental anguish and shared memories, or one of curses and hauntings. If that sounds like a cheat or an ambiguous way to tell a tale, rest assured that it works so well, so naturally, you're not even aware of the potential for a different reading until all is said and done.

This is largely a quietly personal story, but there is a nice framework built around the house, the family, and the town. It's Paul who centers the tale and brings it all together, with his wife's death serving as a catalyst for events, but there's almost a sense of inevitability to the tale (assuming you go with the supernatural reading) that adds a final layer to things. Atmospheric, with some genuine scares, Stillwell draws you in by making you sympathize with Paul's loss, but then gets under your skin, trapping you in his nightmare.


Kindle Edition, 137 pages
Published 2013 by Red Feather Publishing

1 comment:

  1. I was interested in this book when I saw you feature it in one of your Stacking the Shelves. Oh man, I don't know if I'd be able to handle it anymore... Being pregnant and about to have a baby is stressful enough, I can't imagine being in the middle of an insect invasion apocalypse as well, the thought of that alone is enough to scare the bejeezus out of me.

    ~Mogsy

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