Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2019 November 06 • Wednesday

John Shirley's Cellars was great reading for the Halloween season, especially since it takes place in New York City in the days leading up to and including Halloween itself.

The edition I read has a really lackluster, blah cover.

The original paperback printing presented it much better.

Edward Lee is not a familiar name to me and since introduction does little more than relate his enthusiasm for Shirley's novel, it didn'do much for me.

The book itself is quite good, though. This is a real horror novel: creepy, violent and disturbing, much like its environment, New York City and the Lower East Side in particular in the early 1980s. By all accounts that was an unhinged, near-apocalyptic, beyond damaged and decayed place.

Only trace quantities of it remained when I moved to NYC in 1990, but it seems to me that Shirley has captured the time and place very well. He happened to be there, so that helps.

The book opens with our hero in 1955 at the age of ten and gets down to business. This boy has supernatural powers, among them the ability to communicate with or at least hear the dead. But this is the kind of gift that can seem like a curse and he's traumatized into repressing them, forcing them down deep, disowning them and forgetting them.

Then we're in 1981 New York and dead bodies are being found ritualistically slaughtered and disemboweled along with symbols and writings that indicate that they're being offered to demons in exchange for wealth and power.

This is actually literally the case and as a metaphorical forecast of the Reagan era, yuppies and big business and huge cultural, social, political and economic shifts that still need to be reckoned with and reversed.

The pace of Cellars drags a little bit at the end, and I think I prefer it without the revised ending that Shirley has added to this edition.

It's described as a hardcore horror novel and that seems apt. It's brutal enough and hardly pulls any punches.

It does have some Fiction Writing 101 tendencies to have literally everything be connected to a very small group of characters—you might find yourself thinking, "wait, he 'just happens' to be his nephew?" and such things—but it keeps things moving along. Not too much plot getting in the way of the story, as Joe Bob Briggs used to say.

I really enjoyed it and will look for something else from Mr. Shirley in the future.

The first line is "'Maybe he's a gypsy,' said the taller of the two boys".