"The Hiding Place" by CJ Tutor
Characters in literature always seem to have murkier feelings about their hometowns than I do.
Granted, I fancy myself neither particularly gritty nor particularly wounded by the inevitable pains of childhood and adolescence, but still.
As I repeatedly encounter characters with tortured pasts and, basically, doomed futures I wonder, should I think back on my time in my hometown with more torment? Should I view trips back with more foreboding, seeing them as a necessity that requires the mustering of courage?
I mean, honestly, when I think back on where I grew up — Westerville, Ohio, home of the prohibition movement and (until rather recently) still a dry town — my memories are largely fond.
I remember going to midnight showings of scary movies with friends and returning home to our respective bedrooms in the wee hours of the morning only to AOL IM each other and lament the fact that we were too scared to open our closets and retrieve our pajamas.
I remember daring band-mates (As in “marching”, not some cooler band) to eat the worm-y looking lime green peppers that oddly sat bottled on the Steak ‘n Shake tables.
I remember walking backwards to Power of the Pen — #IveAlwaysBeenABaller — because my fellow nerds and I, one time, decided that doing so would help activate our creative juices.
I remember taking advantage of the fact that my single mom worked and inviting 25 people over for middle-of-the-day pancake parties that resulted in full stomachs and one truly fucked-up kitchen.
In truth, aside from a few easily dismissed school-yard bullies whose taunts, unlike sticks and stones, certainly couldn’t break my bones, I don’t really have any negative memories at all.
If literary reflections on growing up are to be believed, though, my ratio is totally flipped. I should have way more negative memories than positive ones. I should be still working to overcome a past that was so horrible it might not even be overcomable.
And The Hiding Place, the second by Chalkman author CJ Tutor, served as another reminder of this fact.
The protagonist of this novel, Joe Thorne, probably didn’t go to see too many midnight movies nor have any reckless pancake parties.
He grew up in the gritty — both figuratively, and literally, thanks to its proximity to coal mines — British town of Arnhill.
Though he’s now a grown man, he can’t seem to get past one particularly traumatic event from his childhood: The disappearance — and, ultimately, the return — of his sister, Annie.
As the novel opens, our decidedly damaged protagonist is returning to his hometown. He hasn’t come to visit family — they all died long ago. Nor has he come to catch up with friends — he seems to not have any, save a loyal roommate. Instead, he has returned because he feels he has to.
Something happened to Joe — or, more specifically, to his sister — years ago.
And now it’s happening again.
Though he’s terrified of what this return to the town he so eagerly fled will bring, he feels duty-bound to intervene and prevent the current residents of Arnhill from experiencing the horrors of his past.
Now, before I discuss the strengths and weaknesses of this book, I need to start out with a comment that is really neither criticism nor praise. I just have to say that, whenever I read a thriller novel that has an element of horror to it, I am constantly amazed by how much braver everyone in the world apparently is than me.
For example *Spoiler Alert* in a move that, honestly, defies logic, Joe has long held on to a doll that used to belong to his sister.
"Abbie eyes" as his sister Annie called it — I know, even the name is creepy as fuck — is, like most heavily loved dolls, a little less than beautiful now. She’s aged and rickety and just generally creepy. But Joe keeps her anyways, because she belonged to his sister.
But then, Joe finds this creepy-ass one-droopy-eyed horror show of a fucking doll not where he left it but, instead, sitting on the landing of his stairs fucking staring into his soul.
Now he's a little freaked out by it. So he puts the doll in a cabinet under the sink.
Hell to the fucking no.
That doll is going in the fucking fire.
Fuck your fucking cabinet!
You really think a latchless fucking cabinet is going to protect you from some can-move-on-her-own-obviously-possessed doll?
There's clearly something wrong with this doll.
Get the fuck rid of it.
And now… cooling down.
Sorry. I crank up my F-bomb meter when I get really scared.
As you can see by the ease with which I became beside myself over a particularly scary scene, Tutor can successfully elicit emotions from her readers. In this case, predominantly fear.
Her work is so effective in inducing these very real feelings for two reasons.
First, she built an atmospheric setting that truly engulfed her readers.
Second, she populated that setting with a realistically flawed — and oddly fucking likable — cast of characters.
As in her first novel, Tutor’s character had a sandpaper-y grit that, while making them unpleasant - albeit exfoliating - spooning partners, certainly made them enjoyable to read about.
Joe was fucked up.
The supporting cast members were largely fucked up.
But, nevertheless, I was invested in them. Because they seemed real.
Unfortunately, though, despite how strong both her setting and her characters were, I had one rather large problem with this novel: the plot.
Namely, the lack of originality of the plot.
I’d read it before.
And, as this fact started to dawn on me, I remembered a little promo blurb I had read on her first novel, Chalkman. This blurb, written by the incomparable Stephen King, said something along the lines of, ‘If you like my stuff, you'll like her stuff.’
As I neared the end of this novel, I recollected this blurb and thought, Umm. Of course I’ll like her stuff if I like Stephen King’s stuff. Because her stuff and his stuff is the same fucking stuff.
As I finished this book and returned it to its place on my bookshelf, I continued to ponder, how was there no one in editorial that, when Tutor turned in this draft said, "Um... So... Have you read 'Pet Semetary'?".
The thing that really pisses me off about this book — that elicits way more intense negative feelings than any reflection on growing up in Westerville ever will — is that it was really good.
Rich and deep and powerful.
But it was, sadly, just too similar to work that’s already out there.
And, because it’s honestly just a retelling of a tale that’s already been told — albeit, a good one — I can’t bring myself to give it more than 3 out of 5 cocktails.
If you read this book, you will probably enjoy it — okay, you’ll alternate between enjoying it and being utterly grossed out — but it won’t blow your mind or change your view of the world.
On to the next read. Want to see what I have on my bedside table next? Follow me, here.
There were some moments in this book that seriously grossed me out. And, unlike when I watch a scary movie, I couldn’t close my eyes. Have you ever read a book that had a heavy gross-out factor? Tell me about it in the comments, below.