by Alissa Ordabai
– Senior Columnist —
Literary duo Mark Allen and Derric Miller know how to chill spines with their own ferocious brand of horror fiction. Still, their newest novel titled Gristle pushes the shock-and-gore factor a whole stage further, like none of their previous offerings. Ramping up the brutality to 11, Allen and Miller not only make your hair stand on end, but also provoke questions of justice versus mercy and offer an off-center study of how violence can shape chaos into order and vice versa.
The creative collaboration between Allen and Miller which began in 2012 with splatterpunk novella Mudslingers has now grown into a well-oiled synergy of fierce imagination and razor-sharp writing. A gripping plot and the twisted humor of violence taken to grotesque extremes turn the pair’s new opus into a fast-paced page-turner. But despite the book’s modern-day New World setting, the more savagery it throws at you, the more it brings to mind classic European folklore.
The story of a young couple battling a family of cannibalistic mutants could indeed have come straight out of field notes of Brothers Grimm: the male hero is of modest beginnings, the female protagonist suffers disfiguration but still emerges triumphant, the young clash with the old, there is gluttony and starvation, monsters, cowardly parents, but in the end kindness toward the lowliest creatures is rewarded, and perseverance and bravery find their true depth.
The classic fairytale elements don’t make the narrative in any way predictable, but help emphasize its humane message. Endless scenes of torture, sadism, and mutilation follow one another in a rapid succession, but messages that emerge in the end give the novel its gumption. Atonement of sins becomes the strongest tenet of the book, along with primacy of faith over organized religion. And the idea of life’s irreplaceable value stands out even more starkly against the background of continual bloodshed.
If anything, the novel takes the fairytale genre where it originally belonged — as cautionary advice to adults, not entertainment for children. It also reminds us of places — outside as well as within of ourselves — where all loyalties and safety nets disintegrate and where nothing else but your own inner strength can be relied upon to keep away the surrounding darkness.
Cannibalistic mutants (just like any monsters in a folk tale) aren’t here just to provide gruesome entertainment, but are also a metaphor — be it for our own internal demons, power-crazed politicians, church leaders, or corporate leaders. A gun also becomes a symbol — of adulthood, for one, but also of courage, judgement, and individual responsibility. Layers of meaning which make you question your own character and choices turn this book into more than gory entertainment. After all, it is violence and evil that make us face the hardest choices and teach us to discern between humanity and monstrosity.
Paperback: 242 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (May 28, 2015)
Purchase the book on Amazon.