Arts + Scene » Book Review

A SoHum Horror Story

Kind Nepenthe by Matthew V. Brockmeyer



OK, first off, so you won't be thinking about it for the rest of this review: "Nepenthe, Wikipedia tells us, is "a fictional medicine for sorrow — a 'drug of forgetfulness' mentioned in ancient Greek literature and Greek mythology." The best-known usage is in Poe's "The Raven": "Quaff, oh quaff this kind Nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!" If all this is unfamiliar to you, don't sweat it; I'm an English major and I had to look it up.

As for "kind" ... I wouldn't use that word to describe this book, a horror novel set in the milieu of Southern Humboldt pot growers. Atmospheric, suspenseful, well-written, yes; but pleasant, no. Author Matthew Brockmeyer seems to delight in creating characters that you care about, then doing terrible things to them.

Those characters include Rebecca, a Southern California girl who's come north in search of a connection to the land; her boyfriend Mark, who goes by the name "Calendula," which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about him; and her young daughter Megan. It's Megan who provides the first clues that all is not well in the woods where the grown-ups grow weed for a shady character named Coyote:

She knew the little boy was in the cupboard under the sink. She didn't know how she knew this.

She just knew.

Just like she knew he'd been in that locked room the night she'd peed herself.

She got up and went to the cupboard, bent down, and slowly pulled open the door.

It was dark in there. But she could see him, crammed into the far back corner, behind a few scattered mousetraps: a tuft of black hair over large, sad eyes.

The other main plot thread concerns Diesel Dan, the local meth-maker (a nice enough guy, actually); his lowlife son DJ (not so much); and DJ's pregnant girlfriend. These people have enough problems to begin with and subjecting them to the influence of a supernatural evil seems cruel. But Brockmeyer goes there and keeps going there and he's talented enough to pull the reader along with him. This is the kind of book that will make you start looking for excuses to cancel all your plans so you can stay home and keep reading.

It does have a couple of issues:The pace slackens a bit in the middle and it could have used a good proofread. There are a distracting number of typos and at one point a character's name changes from Sunbeam to Sunshine and back again. But these are quibbles. Kind Nepenthe is entertaining and absorbing, and I think it achieves everything Brockmeyer wanted it to achieve.

Whether it's something you want to subject yourself to is another matter. Kind Nepenthe is a gripping read, to be sure. If you're looking for a rabbithole you can disappear into for a weekend, this should do the trick. But be forewarned: You may not feel entirely whole when you come out the other side.

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