Regular readers of this blog know that I’m a great fan of Joseph D’Lacey‘s work – ‘Meat’ stunned me, ‘Black Feathers’ rocked, ‘The Kill Crew’ was a damned fine zombie-tale, and ‘Snake Eyes’ was one of the finest short-fiction collections I’ve read.
So, when I got this chance to finally read ‘Garbage Man‘ -which Joseph arranged to send to me wayyy back, along with ‘Meat’- I jumped at it, and here, after years of having the book, is my review. 🙂 And just in time, too… It’ll have entered the Blogosphere just as the nameless things that we don’t see begin twitching toward wakefulness… 😉
Here’s the blurb:
Shreve, a dead-end town next to the UK’s largest landfill. There’s nothing the bored residents won’t stoop to in an attempt to spice up their pedestrian lives. All wannabe model Aggie Smithfield wants is to escape before Shreve swallows her ambition along with a million tons of rubbish and dirty little secrets. Desperate, Aggie asks renowned but reclusive ex-photographer, Mason Brand, for help. The deal they make might be the only thing that can save her when the town’s fate catches up with it. Beneath everyone’s feet, something born of the things we throw away is awakening. And when the past is reborn, there will be no escape.
‘Garbage Man‘ focuses on that which we discard, which we no longer find value or meaning in, and takes it to an extreme exploration that could easily have become a sad, hilarious B-Movie plot-gone-stupid. But Joseph doesn’t write stupid, cheap-thrill stories.
The novel opens with a scene that’ll have you grimacing and squinting while you read (I won’t spoil it for you), introducing two -perhaps three- of the novel’s main characters – Mason, Aggie, and … well, you’ll see. It’s one of those portentous scenes, layered with much more than what the characters are doing or thinking. The reader gets a good introduction to Mason and Aggie -their outlooks on life, their personalities, what stresses them, etcetera- and from then on the novel, chapter by chapter, introduces the other players in the horrific drama which is unfolding, while building and expanding the plot.
The result is that the reader is insistently nudged along, without even realizing it. Some parts of the story do slide back in time, but the pacing of the tale isn’t affected at all, and these scenes serve to deepen our understanding of the character involved. When this character begins to do things no sane person would probably even consider, the reader understands why, and it even makes a twisted kind of sense. But Joseph doesn’t pull this feat off with only one character.
There are many others – a housewife engaged in something she would be roundly condemned for; a father and husband who finds himself helpless against his urges; a college-age teenager who spends his time doing anything else rather than study and attend classes; a husband who is trying to break a habit; a son helplessly and painfully in love; a daughter who wants a bigger and better life for herself, and others. The reader is immersed in their lives, in their relationships and the roles they play in those relationships, and the reader is also very subtly shown how things begin falling apart long before the appearance of the Garbage Man.
And when the titular Garbage Man appears, it comes across as the natural culmination of events and decisions, as if this -horrible and terrifying as it is- could not help but happen. As always, there’s no shielding the reader – whether it be sight, smell, touch, hearing or taste, there’s no quarter given – when people die, they die horribly and painfully, and when they don’t their emotional turmoil his heart-breakingly palpable.
But the violence and emotional shocks aren’t there only to make you groan or gag – every character and everything that happens to them is part of a larger tale, exploring an important theme that runs through Joseph’s work, which resonates no matter your background or beliefs. It’s just that kind of novel – shocking, emotionally powerful, memorable, and quietly thoughtful. In short, another masterpiece.
9 / 10
‘Garbage Man‘ is published by Oak Tree Press. To order your copies, click here from Amazon US, and here from Amazon UK. Don’t forget to check out Joseph’s website here, and you can also check out an article in The Guardian wherein he discusses his Top Ten Horror novels. 🙂
Until next time,
Stay terrified and