by Scott Nicolay
“…she allowed her mind to move […] as if crossing a row of stepping stones planted in a creek.”
This is a full-length novella that I have spent stopwatch time consistently visiting throughout my day so far from very early this morning, feeling compelled to do so, and that surely must say something special about it. I rarely read long works in such a one-day gulp. It held me, and eventually charmed me, scared me, too. A gulp of the slug that Colleen herself gulped or let slip inside her like Paul when he was still alive, as well as gulping a ‘slug’ of Jäger, whatever that is, but it sounds as if it is strong stuff if not just another unpredictable beast become a consistent beauty.
This long work was a rare exception, whereby I thought it a ‘monster’ plot that one often sees caricatured by a reader’s face frighteningly agog at a pulp magazine with a scary monster on the cover; but this was the first of such plots that really really worked for me in a blatantly scary as well as a more subtle feeling of what was happening here. The monster itself is damned hauntingly memorable and I dare not — for fear of spoiling everything — describe how it is skilfully built up here from its first appearance to its later habits.
All stemming from a scenario in a place called Seaside, decimated by superstorm Sandy, and Colleen’s return there to check her shorehouse, as only allowed by rules of the police, between certain hours. She deliberately becomes a sort of Crusoe figure there, haunted by her own backstory of men in her life: Derrick (a sort of Depp figure if Amber is to be believed), her late secret lover Paul, and her late stepping-stone father. And there is also a loner whose name is tantalising and incantatorily not clear. I wonder who of these taught her the sand trick to cope with shit?
I tried to remember, throughout the reading process, loads and loads of things that happened in it to tell you about but, eventually — as pages ever-turned into more pages — I realised there would be little point. Just simply read this genuinely scary monster work with believably subtle-complex and accessibly unique characterisations. And a hugely powerful genius-loci of decimated Seaside. And vivid nightmares, too, that she dreams outside the reality of her ordeals. Unpredictability versus consistency as a significant theme throughout. And I have no further tongue to voice my reactions to this work.
The Sprite sugar rush, notwithstanding.
Full context of this author collection review here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/04/26/and-at-my-back-i-always-hear-scott-nicolay/