Welcome back to the Spooky Book Club! I’ve been coming out of my comfort zone in a big way this month, and I’m so happy to have you along for this terrifying ride! While death and general destruction are one thing, the hopelessness of reality is what tends to make me the most uncomfortable. Our book today might might something to say on that particular subject. To put it bluntly: this installment pushes me to the brink of my limits, and I had to take some serious pause by its conclusion. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here, it’s the TehBen Spooky Book Club!
Bones Beneath the Pale by Wayne Clingman and Chris Vander Kaay was described to me as being “H.P Lovecraft inspired,” which is unfortunate as I’ve never read one. Be that as it may, I can still feel the energy of what was promised from the very beginning. Michael, an employee of a local aquarium, can be best described as “a bit of a card.” Michael is obsessed with aquatic animals and feels generally out of place when it comes to human interaction. Some of this is self-imposed mind you, as Michael dares not share intimacy with others due to his crazy violent dreams…made further troubling by the inescapable notion that he also becomes aroused by them. While life is all around confusing and weird, Michael soon finds a new passion to discover his true identity. Local rich guys and kingpins known as the Maxwell family share the same weird physical features as Michael, and after seeing them on television it soon becomes his life’s work to find the truth. Joining up with a seemingly philanthropic mission for the Maxwell family’s charity organization, Michael is sent down to Brazil to help explore and chart the true depths of the rainforest that still remain mostly unexplored. Can Michael find out the truth about himself? And what dares to happen when he actually finds out the horrible truth?
While telling a fairly complex story, the novel accomplished the task in relative short order. Each chapter is used to push the plot ever forward, and very little content feels like a waste. Michael is unsurprisingly an imperfect main character, but those very same imperfections marbelize nicely as we learn more about the science behind his life, his family, and his unique appetites. At it’s best, the novel is a monument to what we become when we try to be normal, even when we know deep down we can only truly be ourselves. The flip side of that coin however, comes in the exposition of that reality. In a continuing effort to avoid spoilers, please note that the happenings that go down in South America are unapologetic, raw, and disturbing. Without full context, let’s give a rundown of what you’ll encounter: nazis, holocaust atrocities, grotesque insectoids, pseudo incest, and immoral….animal husbandry just to name a few. Okay, the book didn’t sugar coat it, so neither will I. There’s heavy sexual content, and it’s one of the most chilling scenes I’ve ever encountered in a story. I’ll give you a free taste: “wet raw chicken” and let your mind wander from there. To its credit, none of these measures are glorified, as all the horrid encounters are properly classified as the abominations that they are. However, there’s nothing to feel good about when the novel concludes. This is a story without heroes, and it is perhaps a cautionary tale that the phrase “be yourself” can sometimes end up being a loaded statement.
Verdict: Bones Beneath the Pale by Wayne Clingman and Chris Vander Kaay is a spine tingling paranormal horror thriller that keeps pages turning over the entire course of its lean presentation. At it’s core, this is a story about self identity, and how such an exploration will not always yield a happy ending. While the story’s message is important, readers should take warning that the disturbing content and depressing ending will not be for everyone. Nothing presented here is bathed in glory, but at the same time you are never asked to endure the hard facts of the plot with anything but the cold hard truth. This is one of those stories that sticks with you whether you like it or not, so why not steer into it? Share this story with five of your closest friends, you might be surprised at the kind of conversation you’re likely to start.
Special thanks to Wayne Clingman for providing a review copy of Bones Beneath the Pale to TehBen.com. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Author’s Twitter: @themilaukeemob and @ckvanderkaay
Purchase Link: Amazon