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Daniel I Russell - Writer of Horror Fiction

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Sunday, August 12, 2018

Review: Children of No One by Nicole Cushing

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Has anyone noticed my short absence? Probably not. I have two huge deadlines for non-writer related things for the end of the month, so I've been pumping the hours into those. However, I've tried to also keep up on the reading and currently have a whopping four books on the go! (btw that's quite a few for me)

I read Children of No One a couple of weeks back but never got around to jotting my thoughts down, and that needs fixing right now. This was my first selection from my reviewer recommended novellas post a few entries ago, and rest assured other featured authors, I will be getting around to you all.

So let us commence with the...

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(He's not a real pirate. Lost in the maze, he had to eat his own hand and eye to stay alive.)

Sadism, nihilism, poverty, wealth, screams, whimpers, sanity and madness collide in Nowhere, Indiana. For Thomas Krieg, Nowhere is a miles-long, pitch-black underground maze in which he's imprisoned dozens of boys for the past ten years—all in the name of art. For two brothers, Nowhere is the only place they clearly remember living. A world unto itself, in which they must stay alert to stay alive. A world from which the only escape is death. But for an English occultist known only as Mr. No One, Nowhere is much more...and much less: the perfect place in which to perform a ritual to unleash the grandest of eldritch deities, the God of Nothingness, the Great Dark Mouth.

Ever play pool? You're walking around the table, scanning the arrangement, planning your shot. You lean in, line it up, something doesn't quite feel right, so you straighten up and walk around the table once more, searching for another angle, another approach.

This is me right now, trying to write this review, as Children is a tad different from the action-heavy books I've read and reviewed of late. Perhaps this is what caused me to choose this book: something darker, grittier, dirtier.

Okay, here's my odd opening shot: I did and did not enjoy Children, for I feel it is a book written not to be enjoyed, and this is what makes it enjoyable.

Confused? Let's flesh this out.

The story has two strands, that of the boys trapped in the maze, and the adults that are artists and connoisseurs. While I empathised with the plight of the brothers, they weren't the emphasis of the story. It's hard to relate to them as they have no history, little character, they just live in the moment and the rules that are forced upon them. A couple of Pavlov's dogs, reacting the few stimuli granted to them, wondering if there had been anything before all this. True, they suffer (but there's no gratuitous violence here, should that be a concern for some readers), and we stick with it, but don't become overly attached.

Without hijacking this review to pimp my wares, this put me in the Entertaining Demons symbolic mindset. I pictured these children as the starved, injured, confused victims of war cruelly forced upon them by unseen forces. Even religious doctrine is given to them to justify their situation. Like the children in this book, and the faces on the news, we watch, then we turn the page or flick the channel. What do we take from their suffering?

Bring in the other side of the story. The visiting art fanatic, the genius artist, and his assistant. An interesting trio, but all ultimately detestable. I found it hard to saddle up with any of the three, but in a different manner from the brothers. So again, I'm reminded that here is a book that doesn't try to win you over; it doesn't want to be 'liked'. No comic relief sidekick, hero who overcomes the odds, or heartwarming change of a character who sees the error in his ways.

I was particularly drawn to the visitor, MacPherson, as we experience the unfolding mysteries alongside him. As we are asked where the line lies in art vs torture, with MacPherson, we are in turn presented with another line, that of appreciative art audience vs voyeur. I chose to buy and read this book. Doesn't that make me a little bit like him?

Finally, I want to shed some light (pun intended) on Mr. No One. This character gains momentum through the story, starting out as what I thought would be a lacky, hired muscle, right-hand man type to the main antagonist, the artist Krieg. For me, what No One ultimate represents is the void, the existential threat. This brings me back to the boys trapped in the maze. The tone of Children feels nihilistic, in that the great nothing, the great dark mouth is coming to swallow us all (and really...isn't it?) and our lives, be it creating art or crawling around in filth in a dark maze, are ultimately pointless. But as Frankl would suggest, despair is suffering without meaning, and while the boys indeed suffered, did they truly despair? Or did their lives have meaning? Even if that meaning is to be presented to art critics/voyeurs as an exhibit in suffering.

And I think I'll leave it there before I become too involved in my own discussion. The book sets aside the action and scares and sets out a more philosophical table. I could be wrong, but I felt the story was packed with existential symbolism that might even deserve a second read with this in mind going in anew.

While enough for a casual reader, Cushing delivers up a novella that gives back what you put in.

It gets four Sartres smoking pipes in cafes out of a possible five. As always, click on the cover to go to Amazon for a closer look and a purchase. Help support horror!

Next review is probably another retro one, looking at Psychomech by Brian Lumley from 1984.

Well done for reading down to here. Obligatory advert!

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Posted by Daniel I. Russell :: 10:59 am :: 2 comments

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