By Michael Louis Calvillo (Lachesis Publishing; 2007)
Books like this are the reason I slog through so many “underground” horror novels, most of which leave me cold. The fact is there’s usually a damn good reason major publishers pass on those books that debut in expensive trade paperback editions from companies you’ve never heard of, yet every once in a while an indie horror novel appears that actually lives up to its billing. Such is the case with I WILL RISE, from the Canadian outfit Lachesis (who also issued the book in multiple e-book formats–go to www.lachesispublishing.com). It’s the first novel by Michael Louis Calvillo, and one of the most promising debuts I’ve encountered in some time. Why the major publishers passed up this mind-bender I’ll never understand.
Than again, maybe I do have an idea of why Calvillo’s book went the indie route. It’s everything we’ve come to expect from underground horror and then some: defiantly idiosyncratic, shocking, subversive, ambitious and one-of-a-kind. A Beach Read it definitely isn’t! I sincerely hope I WILL RISE doesn’t get lost in the horror shuffle, as it’s a cult waiting to be born.
Told in a first person stream-of-consciousness style vaguely reminiscent of authors like Chuck Palahniuk and Kathe Koja, it’s the warped tale of the thirty-ish Charles, a severely alienated, ugly, maladjusted virgin who’s prone to seizures and suffers from a weird hole in his left palm, an apparent birth defect. When we first meet Charles he’s working in a restaurant he plans to sabotage by spiking its flour supply with Ajax, being a perpetually self-pitying, revenge-seeking loser. After about fifty pages Charles’s relentlessly anti-social mindset becomes positively suffocating (this guy makes Holden Caulfield seem like a choirboy), but then there occurs a most unexpected plot twist…
Charles is caught breaking into the restaurant to carry out his nefarious deed and shot to death by cops. Yet he’s brought back to life by a Godlike force who gives him a mission: snuff out the “human virus”, which the now-undead Charles can accomplish simply by touching people with his mutant left hand. 24 hours later those people will all die, but not before passing on the killing touch themselves, thus spreading death across the globe.
Charles is assisted in his quest by Annabelle, an equally disenfranchised misanthrope who contacts Charles through her dreams, projecting a three dimensional image of herself as a hot, scantily clad babe to help him along. In real life, however, Annabelle is a dumpy blind woman who lives in squalor with her mother; her interaction with Charles humanizes him somewhat, giving him second thoughts about his mission to destroy humanity. This newfound compassion, while directly inspired by Annabelle, complicates their burgeoning romance somewhat, as she remains hellbent on exterminating the human virus, and furthermore can’t be touched by Charles lest she be killed like everyone else he comes into contact with.
There’s much more, of course, in an ever-mutating narrative that continually ratchets up the weirdness factor with a succession of impossible-to-predict twists and bizarre characters. They include a five-year-old genius with ESP who accompanies Charles during the early stages of his odyssey, a gaggle of crazies who learn of Charles’ mission through shared dreams and become determined to do something about it, and Allen Michael, a slimy TV personality who becomes the focus of Charles’ rampage, especially after he discovers Annabelle may have been psychically two-timing him with Michael.
What precisely should we make of this wild ride? Frankly I’m not sure. What I do know is that it’s written with real assurance and a slip-streamy, pop-inflected vernacular that often gives it the feel of a psychotic nightmare–or perhaps a near-death hallucination a la William Golding’s PINCER MARTIN or J.G. Ballard’s UNLIMITED DREAM COMPANY. Whatever it is, I WILL RISE is unique and oddly compelling, one of the finest, most challenging novels of 2007. Don’t let it pass you by.