Boy’s Life (Robert R. McCammon)

Robert R. McCammon | April 28, 1992 | 536 pages
Robert R. McCammon | April 28, 1992 | 578 pages

Over the past year, since getting back into reading, I’ve heard a lot of great things about Boy’s Life. McCammon was well known for his horror novels, but it really wasn’t until Boy’s Life that he reached new heights of reverence. Boy’s Life has elements of horror, to be sure, but it’s much more than just that. There’s a big mystery behind the core of this story, and although that mystery isn’t always the main focus, McCammon takes you on this wild ride of an 11 year old boy who comes of age in the south in the mid 1960s. It is also a powerful tale of a father and son who bear personal witness to a heinous crime and have to navigate life with all of that trauma weighing them down.

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I absolutely love that back cover. The praises, the summary… it all meshes and makes a strong declaration to the reader: READ ME!

What a gorgeous stepback art cover!
What a gorgeous stepback art cover!

MCCAMMON CANON

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After finishing Boy’s Life on April 2, 2020, I went on a “bit” of a McCammon kick. A month later, I was lucky enough to come across a lot of 11 Robert R. McCammon books for just $39.99. I’ve read one since and can’t wait to eventually read the rest. McCammon is a writer’s writer; he writes in a way that is lyrical and puts you right there at the scene of the crime. I’m a huge fan of his writing!

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This is my collection of 15 Robert R. McCammon books. Most of them fall under the horror genre. I’ve heard some amazing things about Swan Song, a tome that spans nearly 1,000 pages long. It is said to be a super epic tale about the end of the world, similar to Stephen King’s The Stand (which I am currently reading — what with COVID-19 and all), but I hear Swan Song is that much more superior.

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Look at all that amazing art work. The titles, the font, the colors… everything is just so gorgeous and striking. They sure as hell don’t make covers like this anymore! His earlier works are said to be weaker than his later entries, as McCammon grew as a writer with each passing book. But I digress. Back to Boy’s Life

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Boy’s Life opts for the first person narrative, and when done right, I really prefer this form of storytelling. Nothing puts you in the shoes and the heart of the main character quite like seeing and hearing things from their perspective. I like how Cory reflects on his younger life, as he rapidly approaches his 40th birthday. It is very reminiscent of Fred Savage’s character, Kevin Arnold, looking back on his formative years from the seminal ’80s TV show The Wonder Years. Being a huge Wonder Years fan, right away McCammon had me sold. Kevin Arnold living in a supernatural world? I’m *SO* there. Take my money, McCammon!

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McCammon’s prose is full of these rich, beautiful word pictures. He makes the reader see beyond the text and into the amazing world he has crafted. Often times, I stop after a certain passage and just have to read it twice. The writing has a timeless quality to it that pulls you in.

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At 578 pages long, Boy’s Life did admittedly drag slightly for me in a few places, but for the most part I was enthralled by the characters and curious about the mystery that wraps itself around the story. When McCammon nails a passage, man, does he ever stick the landing! For example, the excerpt you see above is perhaps my favorite from the book. It is just so haunting… so nostalgic… so full of kinetic energy that you can almost feel it pulsating off the page like fierce firecrackers spouting off in a barrel. “We pedaled on, four buddies with the wind at our backs and all roads leading to the future.” Powerful shit! Good shit!

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I don’t want to spoil this beautiful story for those who haven’t read it, but I will reiterate that it really isn’t a horror novel. Sure, it has got some spooky and supernatural elements to it, but it’s really more about a boy coming of age in the mid 1960s, and his looking back on those formative years that shaped him into the man he would become. There is a definite nostalgic quality to the writing and storytelling. It may be dauntingly overlong to some, but I encourage you to give it a shot if anything in this review resonated with you in the least. It is truly a defining piece of work and often cited as McCammon’s very finest.

BOY’S LOVE

The praise for this book is seemingly endless
The praise for this book is seemingly endless
I'm so glad I read it in 2020!
The effusive shower of adoration continues

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This is the one I remember most, though. I remember when Boy’s Life popped on my radar. As per usual, the first thing I did was visit Goodreads to see the overall consensus. Now I don’t always base my feelings on what strangers think, but I think it’s a fun bar that can be factored in when deciding whether I want to buy a book or not. And I just remember seeing the insane amount of 5 star reviews for Boy’s Life. And how there were barely any 1 or 2 star reviews. No book is ever perfect, and most books will have its fair share of supporters as well as detractors (some far more than others), but Boy’s Life averaged a whopping 4.36 rating as rated by more than 25,000 readers. That blew my mind, and I knew right away it was a book I had to read in 2020. It was also Char’s highlighted review that inspired me to buy a copy that very day.

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Perfectly stated, Char. Indeed.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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McCammon does an excellent job of plopping you into the shoes of 11 year old Cory Mackenson smack dab in the middle of Zephyr circa 1964. The small sleepy town of Zephyr feels like a real breathing place. Themes of racism, bullying, injustice, social inequity and standing up for what you believe in rings loud and proud throughout the pages of Boy’s Life. It’s not perfect but there are many moments where I finished a reading session with one word ringing loud in my mind: “wow.” The story gets really heartbreaking at times and I love the ending where it fast forwards to the year 1991 and we get to see present day Cory Mackenson returning to his childhood town. That part filled me with so much nostalgia in spite of the fact that I am not Cory or never been to his hometown of Zephyr. It’s simply a testament to McCammon’s immense skill of making you feel like you know Cory and his town like the back of your own real life childhood hometown. Also love the father-son relationship in this story. Highly recommended for fans of coming-of-age stories, with a hint of the supernatural.

4Stars

Cannibals (Guy N. Smith)

Guy N. Smith | December 1986 | 186 pages
Guy N. Smith | December 1986 | 208 pages

Last summer I began my journey into the sordid and macabre world of vintage horror fiction. Browsing eBay late one night, I happened to come across an auction for a book called CANNIBALS. After Googling Guy N. Smith, I discovered that he was a rather popular English writer of pulp horror fiction. In other words, if you enjoy trashy and wildly graphic horror stories, Guy N. Smith is your guy (sorry). Guy is most well known for his infamous Crabs franchise, of which he wrote no less than EIGHT books about killer crabs. I knew then that I had to buy Cannibals. Put it on my watch list and a few days later, placed my bid at the last possible second and won the sucker. The excitement level was palpable — I couldn’t wait to read my first adult horror book, something long overdue. Did Guy deliver? Let’s delve in…

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Cannibals won’t win any awards for originality, but the plot is right up my alley. Of the many different horror sub-genres, I’ve always been a sucker for grotesque inbred creatures attacking poor unwitting fools. I love how the back of the book has the same killer art as the front cover. That hideous creature is just so gruesome. What is up with those webbed claws and that third eye?! Definitely not something you would want to run into late at night, or any other time of the day! I also love the simple plot and how you know there will be an uprising of the monsters. Much blood shed is promised, and much is spilled and splattered through the book’s 208 pages. It is a wild, bloody ride!

Guy N. Smith
Guy N. Smith

WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE…

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Wrong Turn opened in theaters on May 30, 2003. I scored two tickets for a special pre-screening the night before, and invited a good college buddy of mine along. It was a packed house! Lots of girls screaming in the audience and lots of funny comments like “OH HELL NO! GIRL YOU BETTER WATCH YO BACK!” made for a very fun evening of slasher movie madness. Cannibals is kind of like Wrong Turn and The Hills Have Eyes… but on steroids.

The Hills Have Eyes, a cult classic
The Hills Have Eyes, a 1977 cult classic

ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE

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Most horror books open with an excerpt from later in the book. It’s usually a nasty bit that the author wants to highlight right from jump street. The one in Cannibals is no exception; it is a particularly abominable excerpt…

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The first page introduces us to Doug Geddis, an elderly member of the hamlet known as Invercurie. We find out he’s in his late 50s and that he’s seen through shit. He is clearly apprehensive, and praying that whatever was lurking outside were villagers rather than… well, you know. Right away Guy N. Smith paints a desolate scene. One that feels hopeless, isolated from civilization and ripe for some inbred monster mayhem.

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It isn’t long before readers find Doug Geddis is up to no good. Greedy to make a buck, he’s willing to risk the lives of careless holidaymakers. What a great word, by the way. You gotta love English writers; they use certain words and phrases American writers don’t. Little details like that can make a book feel “exotic” and extra fun to read. I also love his wife’s accent and how Guy writes it as how you would hear her speak it: “Douglas, ye can nae bring outsiders to Invercurie, ye can nae risk them seeing…” and then ol’ Douglas the mad lad telling her to shut up. Or think it, anyhow. The page ends on this chilling line: “Death would always stalk the night hours in Invercurie.” Ooh, spooky! Even the word “Invercurie” seems to curdle the blood… it just sounds like the sort of place where really bad and awful things happen… the type of place that deserves to be blotted off the map and blown to bits. A region where no God of any kind exists…

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Soon we get some foolhardy holidaymakers crashing the scene. They’re needed for the body count, y’know. Once again we get another chilling line in italics: Invercurie ceases to be a place of beauty after dark. Ye mustna go up into the mountains. Creepy stuff!

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Be ready for a lot of words written in italics. I suppose it was Guy’s way of being extra dramatic and look-at-me. Whatever the odd case may be, I find it works. My eyes were always drawn to the italics, and I knew anything in italics usually meant some sort of vulgar language or graphic description. Guy’s vivid description of the beasts is second to none. He really excels at grossing you out and making you feel super glad you’re anywhere but Invercurie!

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When shit hits the fan, it really hits the fan. This is like nothing I’ve ever read from R.L. Stine, that’s for sure! Oh no, people die here and die in very gruesome ways. It is not for the faint of heart. Cannibals is balls to the walls horror and depravity personified. Being my first adult horror book read, I could not believe how vile and despicable it was. Each reading session concluded with me wanting to thoroughly scrub myself clean!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Guy N. Smith is a savage. The story moves along at a brisk pace, there is plenty of monster mayhem and it never drags. This isn’t one of those lame horror stories where it’s 80% buildup and then finally the monsters appear during the final 20%. These godforsaken creatures show up early and often. At first it’s a bunch of slaughtering up in their dank decrepit cave. But before things come to a fiery conclusion, the creatures shamble out of their cave to wreck havoc and smash shit up down in the village. This was no lame first book in a series where it sets up events for the middle book. This is a standalone where Guy unleashed all hell and said, “Here, have some more hell! And take another heaping of hell after that!” I enjoyed the hell out of it, pun intended. It’s way better than any Hills Have Eyes or Wrong Turn movie. Sometimes, it’s a lot more frightening imagining something with your mind than it is to see with your eyes. Cannibals is damn bloody fun, full of wanton destruction and chaos. I was sad when it finally ended, but also relieved. I needed a shower badly! This is just one of those books… it’s completely vile and foul… and I loved every friggin’ second of it :P

5Stars