Friday, June 5, 2009

Gentlemen, by Michael Northrop, will scare your underpants off.

Best morning subway ride EVER. Last night, I finished (yes! finally! finished! for real, this time!) my screenplay, and I didn't have anything to do on the subway. So I read Michael Northrop's Gentlemen, which tied for my #1 score at Book Expo this year with the advance copy of Poppy Z. Brite's gay New Orleans food couture mystery. So good that I wrote an Amazon review. Yes, I couldn't help myself.

michael northrop's gentlemenSmall-Town Horror Meets Classic American Fiction

The thing that dawned on me, reading this novel, is how little a percentage of horror books actually involve capital-H Horror. Stephen King isn't about googly-eyed monsters and crazed psychos -- or, at least, he isn't about that so much as he's about the most basic human reactions. Fear. Anxiety. Loss. Regret. That's what separates, say, "The Catcher in the Rye" from "The Road" -- in other words, a really well-done non-horror story from a really good horror story.

And there's a lot of Stephen King in Michael Northrop's book. Actually, it reminded me more of Michael ("The Hours") Cunningham. For much of the book, the main plot moves slowly, but interesting, well-developed and well-savored. Almost every page there's a side story that made me want to tell the person next to me about what I was reading -- like how Tommy threw a desk across the room in order to distract a girl he liked, or the summer of the two Jennys. And Micheal's language (the narrator -- whose name was misspelled on his birth certificate, not the author) is so graceful that when he suddenly becomes "typical guy"-ish and talks about throwing a punch at his teacher, you're blown away. Not because it's out of character, but because it makes him so multi-dimensional and real.

Then, of course, there's the scary stuff. And Michael (the author) seems to know his way around both scary stuff and the more Gothic parts of small-town America: the secrets people keep and the way that dark seems to swallow up the country after twilight. As the novel moves on, the simple question of whether or not their teacher has a dead body no longer feels like the point of the book -- it's more about Micheal, his friends, his town, and the darkness that's inside him.

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