Sunday, March 21, 2010

Mr. Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett

I frequent a series of forums that I don’t mention often, mostly because I don’t want people to venture there and think terrible things about me. What’s difficult to explain to most people is that, in the tens of thousands of members of those forums, there are quite a few who produce beautiful works of art, be it visual, audio, or even in novel form. That’s what led me to Mr. Shivers, a novel by forums member Robert Jackson Bennett.

Mr. Shivers is a weird amalgam, a mixture of The Grapes of Wrath and Doctor Faustus, generously shmushed up with ancient mythology and good old fashion horror. Throughout the Hoovervilles of Depression-era America and along the railways inhabited by tramps and runaways, there is the tale of Mr. Shivers, a scarred man who brings death in his wake. He’s a ghost story, a legend, a boogyman to frighten children. And he’s real. Enter a motley group of men who have lost everything to the man and will travel thousands of miles for revenge.

The book has quite a bit in common with Southern American literature—surroundings that are not always what they seem, the people of high status brutally brought low, and superstition is in the very air that characters breathe. Yet, I don’t think that I would have ever considered Depression-era America as sibling literature to the stories of Flannery O’Conner before reading this book. Now I see that the intense suffering of families, farmers abandoned by nature, and the seemingly complete absence of government makes for an environment that should spawn ghost stories regularly. Bennett has done his research—the reader is fully immersed in the hopelessness of the time period, the fear that everything familiar was now turned on its head.

I think I’ll be watching Robert Jackson Bennett from now on, hoping that I’ll find out more about his future works. And I’ll be doing it on The-Forums-That-Shall-Not-Be-Mentioned.

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