Little HeavenLittle Heaven by Nick Cutter
My rating: 4/5 cats
One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

You could not outrun your past. Your history was a lonely hound pursuing you over field and fallow, never resting, always hungry, tracking you relentlessly until one night you heard its nails scratching at your door.

just as i curse my taste buds for preventing me from enjoying the rich and varied world of olives, i curse my reading taste buds for preventing me from liking lovecraft and all books written in the lovecraftian tradition, which is also rich and varied and includes this book right here.

i love nick cutter, and i wanted to love Little Heaven: A Novel because all its pieces seemed to be right up my alley – it’s compared to cormac mccarthy and it’s got bounty hunters and other guns for hire and a religious cult and revenge, and oh-so-many disgusting descriptions, and it’s even illustrated! and so many of these elements really knocked my socks off when i was reading them, but when it came to the novel’s supernatural bits, my brain just balked.

because what i appreciate the most about cutter’s brand of horror writing is his old-school flair, where he seems to be channeling stephen king at the height of his powers and writing these contemporary spins on themes that king popularized: the ordinary horrors of childhood made less ordinary with the introduction of a spooky element, the inherent creepiness of children, suppressed memories resurfacing in adulthood, wonderful descriptions and atmosphere giving a weight to the threat that is taking its time to appear, making it all the more effective for its insidiously slow reveal.

but this one is characterized by an old school horror that is too old school for my tastes, edging into that lovecraft territory i just do not dig. there are still elements of the king tradition here – the synopsis compares it to IT, but there’s also some dark towery stuff, with the guns and the dusters and the journey bits.

but all of that is lost for me once the lovecraftian elements surface. some of it is the language. there are words i associate with lovecraft (whether accurately or not), and they are all here:

fulmination, extrusions, clotted, shuddering, ichor, gibbering, madness, jesting, capering, whickerings, guttural, mindless, chittering, obelisk, scuttling, jittering, gobbets, etc.

but most important are the words relating to the horror itself; everything is unnatural, unspeakable, undefined, unearthly, unthinkable, and the biggie: ineffable

this occluded quality of the horror ruins the experience for me. i know it’s supposed to make it scarier, somehow, where the individual reader will superimpose their own worst imaginings upon the scene and make it a highly personalized horror specific to their own imagination’s powers, but either i have no imagination, or i’m lazy and want it spelled out for me. i need a lot more than “ineffable.”

don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of description here, even of the big bad, but too many instances of DIY horror, where the reader is left to fill in the blanks:

– His eyes couldn’t grasp the true shape of it, or didn’t want to; his gaze skated off its awfulness, shying from it like a nervous horse

– It wasn’t that it was too fast for the eye to chart – it was more that the eye rebelled, defaulting on its own optics and reducing whatever was out there to an indefinite smudge. Maybe their brains did this as an instinctive protective measure, to spare them the true contours of the thing.

-his frail human eyes and his inadequate and too-literal mind were preventing him from seeing its more breathtaking true shape.

stop skirting, please! i want to see its shape!

despite all my complaints, i liked a lot of this book. the premise is definitely cool – it follows three characters: micah, ebenezer and minerva, from the beginning of their complicated relationship in 1965; which origin story is more of a meet-kill than a meet-cute, where they’d all been contracted to kill each other, although one of them had an additional, personal motivation for homicide. once the dust settled, they formed an uneasy alliance and began working with each other, including a job they accepted to investigate a cult and rescue a child. this job went horribly wrong and resulted in long-ranging consequences, causing them to band together fifteen years later and return to the scene of the horror, dusting off their … dusters, and getting back into the good flawed v. evil fight once more, older, wearier, less confident of their chances of success but unable to refuse.

The trunk’s innards smelled of gun oil and old blood. He retrieved one pistol, then the next. They felt good in his hands. Like brothers, like sisters, like homecoming.

i love the structure – switching back and forth through time. dropping you right into the aftershocks without explaining the cause and slowly revealing the past. it’s confusing, but in that “i want to know more” way.

the descriptions are also great, when they’re not describing the actual … evil.

Outside, the fields lay spectral in the witching hours. Ground fog ribboned along the earth.

that’s spooky and lovely to me, as is the feasting darkness of the woods, and there’s some king-style passages that frustrate me with wanting the whole book to be written like this:

He stared down to the tunnel below. An odor drifted up, almost too faint to credit. A smell that spoke of childhood. A mix of bubble gum and dimestore perfume, the blood off skinned knees and chocolate coins wrapped in shiny foil. It was all of these things, but corrupted somehow. Mixed with the smell that permeates an old folks’ home: sickness and dust and the yellowing reek of bodies rotting from the inside out. The smell of living death.

because this stuff just leaves me cold:

A panoramic view of the jungle. A riot of creeping vegetation and trees that had witnessed generations wither and die under the wide sweep of their limbs. A place where things never stopped growing, implacably and endlessly and insidiously so, pushing up through the ground and twining around whatever was closest to them, strangling it. A lunatic vista of inhospitable, brooding, vengeful green.

i love the relationships between the three main characters, particularly minerva’s deep hatred of ebenezer:

Minerva saw the Englishman staggering toward her, cursing. She did not want him to collapse – he might fall down the steep slope and break his loathsome neck, robbing her of the opportunity to slit it later on and dance a happy jig in his fountaining blood like a child skipping around an opened fire hydrant.

i loved the juxtaposition of real-world/fairytale world elements – we have the pied piper story woven into the story of a recognizable historical cult leader, and the story borrows elements of the western, horror, and noir genres, all of which would have been like candy to me were it not for all of the … this:

a silky constriction that pinged on a fainter sonic register – a rhythmic coiling and tightening that called to mind a sightless worm of endless length braiding over and around itself in knots of terrifying complexity.

i really wish this style of horror worked for me, because it keeps me from reading so many things other people seem to enjoy, but it’s a stumbling block i cannot overcome because i am defective.

so, 3.5 rounded up because the parts i liked were quite good indeed, and the parts i didn’t like are probably good if you are not a defective reader, and while i wasn’t scared-scared, there are some excellent creepy moments.

“We better go find them,” said Ellen.

“Oh, I don’t think you want to do that,” Minerva whispered.

3.5 rounded up because i freaking love nick cutter, but this one falls into that particular brand of horror i’ve just never been able to get into, which is my own taste-fail, not the book’s fault.

review to come

read my reviews on goodreads

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