‘The Town’ – by B.P. Gregory

Review

BP Gregory first came to my attention about a month ago after reading an online interview with her via The Grim Reader, which in turn led me to Kendallreviews where I gleaned more information about this Aussie storyteller. I guess what attracted me to her author profile was (obviously) the fact that she wrote dark fiction, but also her sense of humour came through. I’ve no doubt she could probably do stand-up as an observational humourist if she put her mind to it. After reading a sample of her writing I was convinced that here was a significant new talent to bolster the growing ranks of female horror writers. So I promptly ordered a print copy of her novella, ‘The Town’ and got stuck in.

Due to a backlog of ‘to reads’, my progress through the book was interrupted over a period of about four weeks and, on reflection, it would have been easier to appreciate Ms. Gregory’s writing style with either a more concentrated sitting or at least a regular daily read. ‘The Town’ is a style of writing that rewards a conscious reader. It’s not a tale that plunges you in at breakneck speed, but rather it draws itself around you like a cowl of creeping dread, leaving you with a sense of gravity regarding the words you have consumed.

Plot-wise the main characters are Kate – an alcoholic local government/office worker charged with monitoring the impact of a recent bushfire. Her friend Lin accompanies her on a fact-finding mission into the outback after she finds evidence of a township that shouldn’t actually exist, right in the path of said conflagration. Their investigations lead them to discover a long abandoned government complex called the Karrik Institute where local indigents are exploited as subjects in sinister research. After encountering three rather dubious members of the local fire-service on the fringes of this forsaken landscape they wander through the Karrick Institute and meet up with a man of Aboriginal descent named Eric. He is the (self-appointed) caretaker of the building and hides a traumatic past, common to many locals, who have had one or more of their family go missing. The trail leads to the Karrick Institute but evidence is lacking.

The companions, whose relationship is a complex mix of cynicism, responsible morality and sense of the fatalistic, make enquiries with various other members of the local population. As they do so, the intrigue and suspense and, yes, sheer horror mounts. The ending is fairly cataclysmic, but for those who like all loose ends to be tied up and the meanings, whys and wherefores all neatly explained, then you may be disappointed. The author’s style is ambiguous, it’s fair to say; and this tale is like an extended short story, relying on the impact of the narrative and the spectacle of the horror, known as the ‘Town.’

Criticisms? I had to re-read certain sections to get a grasp of whose point of view or dialogue attribution I was currently engaged with, and I think I could have done with a bit more grounding at times as to the motivations of the characters and the stakes that made them act the way they did.

Strengths? It has to be the prose-poetry of BP Gregory’s narrative. By describing the scenes using a mix of dark humour, vivid imagery and bizarro-type scripting, the reader is left with a sense of unspeakable horror that keeps churning over and over in your mind. Make no mistake, if you can push through the sometimes dense and confusing storyline you will definitely be impacted by this story. Of particular note is the use of tastes and smells – you might call them the olfactory senses. There is much reference to excrement, bodily fluids and something called ‘The Seep’. I have never read a horror story that infiltrated my defences in quite this way.

My conclusion? An author to watch for certain. I think with a few tweaks in terms of bias towards ‘telling’ as opposed to ‘show’ and metaphor, together with establishing more anchor points in the narrative, we’ll see this Australian wordsmith produce some truly memorable work.

For fans of Blake Butler, Philip K. Dick and Chuck Pahlaniuk

Booklink: Amazon US Amazon UK

You can check out BP Gregory’s website here – and by the way, it’s one of the coolest designed websites I’ve seen!

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