It’s no secret that I love Dance Darklings. It’s the best of both worlds: I get to listen to loud music and chat with bodacious goth babes, but I don’t have to leave my living room couch, or change out of my pajama pants. What’s not to like? So one night, I was jamming to the delectable tunes spun by the enigmatic and mysterious DJ Pervula, when I thought to myself: the only thing that could possibly make this night any better, would be curling up with a good book. So I cracked open a cold one, and did just that.
Several hours and a six pack later, around 7:00 am, I had finally finished reading the novel, Hoarder, from cover to cover. I had stayed up so late (or early), that I barely even noticed when the Darkling DJs stopped spinning their songs. They usually play music straight to the daybreak of dawn, but I had been reading in silence and solitude for hours, long after the livestream ended. The writing was just that damn good! Oh also I was scared shitless and too terrified to sleep, until I had the warmth and comfort of the sun itself as my nightlight. So yes, the story was also genuinely disturbing, and truly horrifying.
The characters are all gripping from the get-go. Each reminded me of some aspect of myself, or were like doppelgangers of people I know in real life. One especially chilling example, was the antagonist, Missy Wormwood. She was a dead ringer for every evil hateful Karen that I have ever met. She was like Annie Wilkes, Professor Umbridge, and a fairytale wicked witchy stepmother, all rolled up into one profoundly unlikeable hagfish of a woman. A terrible person, but a great villain! Like all these classic literary monstresses, Missy overcompensates for her sinister demeanor and sociopathic tendencies, with a veneer of saccharine sweetness and nauseatingly cutesy baby talk. In her own dysfunctional psyche, she can’t possibly be the bad guy. All she ever wanted was her pretty pretties and yummy yums!
The book brings to mind classic Edgar Allan Poe, especially the violent hypocrisy of a self-proclaimed animal-lover in The Black Cat. Similarly, it reminded me of William Faulkner. And that’s saying something, because Faulkner was a sick little freak. As I Lay Dying, a novel about a poor family carrying their dead matriarch to her grave, is the least creepy book that this guy ever wrote. The Sound And The Fury, and especially, A Rose For Emily, (which is also about a hoarder, or at least an eccentric shut-in) are straight up nasty. But Hoarder rivals them all with sheer shock value. Similarly, the protagonists, a gang of kids, were a nostalgic allusion to classic Stephen King books, especially IT.
However, while Hoarder does evoke the Great American Novel in the classical tradition, it is also modern and original. The characters weren’t too derivative, as each individual had their own personality and perspective throughout the narrative. They were united in a common goal – defeat the mean old lady and reclaim their stolen property from her- but they all had unique methods and motivations to achieve this objective.
Big brother Keith wants to get his stolen bike back, but also to protect his younger tagalong sidekick, Ian. Tomboyish Dani wanted to rescue her missing kitty cat, Fiddlesticks, and her bold and brash attitude would stop at nothing to bring her beloved family pet back home. Skater dude Will wanted to help his friends get revenge against Missy, but he had to be sneaky and stealthy about it.
I knew I was in for some sick, twisted, gross-out horror. But damn, nothing could possibly prepare me for the graphic gore that the author forced me to visualize and imagine. Concrete imagery of every kind is employed: The suffocating stench of mildew, the musty taste of mold, the moist squishing noise of rotting wood underfoot, the crusty textures of crumbling rust and dirt, the repugnant sight of squirming maggots. This book aims to disgust, and it not only succeeds, but exceeds and overachieves in this regard. What a show off!
All teasing aside, this story is not just scary, but also sad. The antagonist is a horrible human being, but she’s also pitiful and pathetic. The main characters all suffer greatly throughout the entire plot. Everyone’s arc is rather tragic. Even during the gnarly climax, it’s not just about the action and physical horror, but also the psychological pathos and cognitive dissonance of moral ambiguity. It also was a rude awakening for my own unhealthy habits. Like most people, I’ve watched movies and TV shows about hoarders. And when someone takes it to such an extreme, it was all too easy to hypocritically judge them, while justifying my own messy lifestyle. “Hey, at least I’m not that bad!”
It’s kind of ironic, isn’t it? I would think to myself: “Damn, imagine being so hopelessly addicted to something so mundane.” While guzzling cheap beers, smoking weed and/or tobacco, stuffing my face with salty junk food, doomscrolling on my phone, and binge watching trashy reality TV. And as much as I hate Missy Wormwood, it stung all the more personally when I actually found her relatable for a moment. While chasing the mischievous teens in her house, Missy paused to rearrange a pen holder, until it was perfectly organized and color coded. That reminded me of myself, because my house might look like chaos, but that’s because I want it to be exactly the way I want it. Instead of focusing on the bigger picture of general organization, it’s easier to hyperfixate on trivial, tiny things to meticulously rearrange. Then again,if it will never be perfectly clean, then why even bother?
If I drop a pen on the floor, I don’t want to use it anymore, because the ground is dirty. But then again, I don’t want to throw away a perfectly good writing utensil! So I eventually wound up with a collection of bags, boxes, and baskets, full of glitter gel pens, mechanical pencils, neon highlighters, spiral bound notebooks, and other office supplies that I had no intention of ever using, because they had all fallen on the dirty floor. That’s the broken, delusional logic of a hoarder: They actually fancy themselves as being neat, tidy, efficient, and sustainable.
After reading this book, I was in a mental fog and emotional haze. I was simultaneously repulsed, confused, and intrigued, not to mention tipsy and sleep-deprived. As the sun rose, and the desert highway blushed pink, I finally felt safe enough to fall asleep. I awoke sometime in the afternoon, dragged myself out of bed to work a short shift at my menial part-time job, and then drove for an hour from Santa Fe to Albuquerque.
For the entirety of the hour-long commute, I gripped the steering wheel with sweaty palms and tense white knuckles, hyperventilating. A public service announcement came on the radio, warning about car crashes and distracted driving. That only made my panic worse, but ironically, I was too scared to change the station. I felt like if I took my eyes off the road to glance at the dashboard, or just one hand off the steering wheel to reach for the tuner, for even a split second, then it would all be over. Normal roadsigns and street lights seemed to loom like ominous, titanic giants, silently judging my every move. Hell, I think there was even a moment when I literally jumped at my own shadow, after I arrived at my destination.
In other words, that book scared me so hard, that it gave me a subconscious, primitive, instinctual fear that almost impaired my ability to function. The kind of humbling fear that a caveman might have felt after encountering a saber tooth tiger for the first time, and realizing that humans aren’t at the top of the food chain after all. A dread so visceral and somatic, that I could tangibly feel it in the marrow of my bones, and coursing through the blood in my veins. Raw adrenaline, primal and pure. Come on, you horror fans know what I’m talking about. The good shit!
You know it’s a great book, when it makes you critically analyze your own beliefs, and maybe even inspires you to change your life for the better. And you know it’s a great thriller/suspense novel, when you feel genuinely concerned about the author’s psychological well-being and immediate safety. (Seriously bro, you ok?) Check it out on Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Books, or Amazon. 4 stars outta 5!