Night in the Lonesome October (Richard Laymon)

Richard Laymon | September 1, 2002 | 346 pages
Richard Laymon | September 1, 2002 | 346 pages

Richard Laymon is considered one of the most prolific horror writers of his day. Sadly he passed away on February 14, 2001, leaving this world far too early. It’s crazy that it’s almost been 20 years since his passing. He had a writing style that was unique and unforgettable. His horror was of the “splatterpunk” variety — extreme gore, sex scenes aplenty and all manner of depravity that is akin to surfing the Dark Web. It’s an unsettling place to visit, but one in which you’ll always remember — for better or for worse. My favorite book of his is by far Night in the Lonesome October. It is a masterful piece of horror fiction. I can’t think of another book like it. It’s one of those books that has to be read late at night only. Richard Laymon created a dreamy and dangerous world here like no one else could. I’m sad he’s gone, but I am thankful we’ll always have books like this to remember him by!

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I know the front cover is generic as all hell, but don’t let that discourage you from picking up a copy. There are other editions with better covers, but it’s the inside that counts.

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Cemetery Dance’s synopsis of Night in the Lonesome October is the best:

Creepy hardcover version
Creepy hardcover version

Shortly after returning to college for the start of the Fall semester, Ed Logan learns that the girl he loves has found herself a new boyfriend and won’t be coming back to school. Heartbroken and restless, Ed strikes out late one night for a walk through town. He doesn’t much care where he’s going, but soon finds himself fascinated by what he discovers between midnight and dawn — frightened by the town’s lurking terrors, lured by its mysteries… and enthralled by a strange, beautiful girl who roams the lonely streets.

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It is told in first person form, from the eyes of our 20 year old protagonist, Ed Logan. His girlfriend Holly breaks up with him, and he enters a spiraling stage of depression. To alleviate his pain, he wanders the dark streets of his small town, Willmington, in an attempt to “get his mind off things.” It is there on those seedy streets after midnight that he runs into all sorts of — shall we say — “interesting” characters. But chief amongst them is a mysterious and alluringly beautiful girl that immediately captures Ed Logan’s fancy. He begins to follow her night after night and fancies himself as sort of her guardian. Why is she roaming the streets late at night? Where is she going? Ed endeavors to find out, and what he finds, may be more than he can handle. I won’t spoil this wonderful book but I have to share a few highlights…

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By the way, this book is not to be confused with Roger Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October, which I have also heard great things about. Both Laymon and Zelazny used Edgar Allan Poe as inspiration — it was Poe that first coined the unique phrase.

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Chapter one begins with a banger of an opening sentence. I was twenty years old and heartbroken the night it started. Well damn, now I’m curious to know more. We find out Holly Johnson crushed his heart. Damn you, Holly. But hey, if you didn’t dump Ed’s ole ass, then I guess we wouldn’t have this fantastic tale, would we? So thank you, Holly.

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Early on, we are introduced to one of my favorite characters Richard Laymon has ever crafted. The bike hag, as Ed calls her, never fails to send a chill or two down my spine. I can always hear the BRING-BRINGGG! of her bell as she zips by Ed Logan. She appears throughout the novel and is delightfully demented in a very subtle, unsettling manner.

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Afraid the old crone may turn him into a toad or something, Ed Logan is eager to duck and hide from the bike hag. And upon doing so, he spots the new girl of his dreams. I love how Laymon tells it straight — he is not one to use fancy prose. He simply wrote, “But then from the east a girl came walking.” Right away, you know it’s a major beat change and that this mysterious female of the night is going to be one of the key players in this story. Ed is captivated immediately, and many crazy adventures are yet to come…

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As stated earlier, the bike hag is a fun recurring character. Ed is seriously paranoid of her. Is she even human? What mystical and deadly powers might this bike hag possess? Each night that Ed roams the streets, he risks running into the bike hag. I love how the page above shares all the various fears that Ed holds for the bike hag. You can’t help YOURSELF from the growing paranoia…

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Laymon builds up the anticipation — at first Ed is unsuccessful in locating his new dream girl. I love the analogy to Ahab and the White Whale from the classic story Moby Dick. You can’t help but root for Ed Logan. You know he’ll eventually meet her, but Laymon doesn’t give it to you right away. He builds just enough to make that magical moment mean something.

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While Ed is on the hunt for his dream girl, he encounters seemingly every single lunatic that lives in Willmington. In particular, this eerie porch scene gave me the heebie-jeebies!

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I could picture this scene in my head so vividly… as I read it at 2 in the morning. Creepy!

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I love the first person narrative. We really get in Ed Logan’s head. Laymon does a great job selling the fact that the night time is when the demented roam and rule. You can almost feel the seediness and peril of the night dripping off the pages. Well done, Uncle Dick. Well done, indeed.

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More creepy 3 AM shenanigans abound! Laymon lays it on thick and you truly come to believe that this town is Loonyville. You can’t go anywhere after dark without being accosted by some creep or another.

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The book picks up the pace even further once Ed Logan and Casey, the mysterious midnight girl, meet. These two night owls then begin wandering the streets of Willmington past the witching hour, playing risky games such as “Ride or Hide” and meeting all sorts of vagabonds and sycophants along the way. There’s a lot more to this book than just midnight excursions, including a main bad guy (not the bike hag) that plays a major role. I won’t delve any further; you’ll have to read it for yourself to find out!

RECEPTION AND REVERENCE

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A while back, I was browsing Reddit and came across a Richard Laymon appreciation post. The poster shared how his mom cleaned her house and found his old well read collection of Richard Laymon tomes. This led to a bunch of replies praising Richard Laymon. One person said reading Laymon is like remembering every detail about a nightmare you’ve had. Perfectly stated!

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This reply resonated with me so much that now whenever my wife and I go somewhere that seems a bit sketch, I’ll look at her and say, “Hey babe, this place is kinda Richard Laymon, huh?” She would always chuckle a bit and say “Yup…” She’s read one of his novels (Island) and enjoyed that one very much. You read one Richard Laymon novel and you know exactly what kind of writer he is…

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But my absolute favorite reply in that thread came from the esteemed user with the moniker, socially_bereaved. Mr. Bereaved sums it up wonderfully: “That book is the “hey u up?” text at 2 AM of books.” I laughed my ass off when I read that, because Night in the Lonesome October is exactly that. Now if that doesn’t stir your interest, then goodness I don’t know what will.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

My wife and I carved this for Halloween 2020
My wife and I carved this for Halloween 2020

I have read over 15 Richard Laymon novels since I first discovered him in mid 2019, and this one remains by far my favorite of his up to this point. His other novels range in quality. Most are good, a few are clunkers, but Night in the Lonesome October is absolutely fantastic. You have to read this book late at night. Richard Laymon crafted such a dreamy, otherworldly universe that you’ll feel as though you’re roaming the seedy streets with Ed Logan himself. Even to this day, I still look back fondly on my reading experience with this one. I read it over the course of 3 nights, and loved the hell out of it. It’s probably my favorite horror book that I’ve read thus far.

Don't let the bike hag touch you...
Don’t let the bike hag touch you…

In tough and uncertain times like this, sometimes you just need to escape from it all for a couple hours. I can’t recommend this book wholeheartedly enough. The ending, which don’t worry I won’t spoil, is the cherry on top of this wicked cake. It ends like how a raunchy young adult coming-of-age movie might, where it ends with a one line banger. I read the last line, pumped my fist and yelled, “FUCK YEAH!” Immediately after which, I could envision the end credits scrolling with some high energy song accompanying it as I sat there with a stupid, satisfied smile on my face. From beginning to end, Richard Laymon hits a grand slam. This book is often cited as one of his finest works. Read it to find out why. If you don’t, perhaps the bike hag herself will give you “the works…”

5Stars

It (Stephen King)

Stephen King | September 15, 1986 | 1,153 pages
Stephen King | January 5, 2016 | 1,153 pages

34 years ago yesterday, Stephen King’s It was first published. September 15, 1986. I had no idea that was the case until moments ago when I googled the original publication date for this review. Imagine my surprise when I saw it was just yesterday 34 years ago! What a random fun coincidence. Earlier this year I set a goal to read all 1,000+ pages of It, and I’m proud to say I did that. It was also the first Stephen King book I have read, and it definitely won’t be the last. This is often considered Stephen King’s most popular book. It has been critically acclaimed, has been translated into a mini series back in 1990, and also received two full length feature film adaptations. It is as synonymous with the words “horror novel” as any other horror book one could name. But did it live up to the hype? Let’s take a look…

This is the gargantuan 2016 edition by Scribner
This is the gargantuan 2016 edition by Scribner
High praise indeed
High praise indeed

IT MEMORIES

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I can vividly remember getting my dad to buy me the VHS of the 1990 movie at a Suncoast at the local mall. At the time I had no idea it was based off a book. I just knew there was a creepy clown on the cover and I was sold. I remember watching the movie with my best friend Nelson, and not liking it as much as I hoped. I was a kid at the time so I definitely didn’t understand all the complexities and subtleties. The best part for me of course was whenever Pennywise the clown appeared onscreen (played by Tim Curry). The other “boring” parts Nelson and I didn’t care much for, but like I said, we were just little kids at the time who wanted their horror films to be over the top.

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It was only years later that I found out It originated as a book. A really thick ass book. I was probably in junior high by then, and had no interest in reading a book well over 1,000 pages… especially when Goosebumps scratched my itch for the macabre at just around 120 pages per entry.

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Then It was released in theaters on September 8, 2017. A girl I had just started dating wanted to watch It, and so I took her. I wanted to see it as well, but kept my expectations low because of how disappointing I found the 1990 version to be. We ended up really liking the 2017 version and then earlier this year my wife and I watched It Chapter Two. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to tackle the book.

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At its core it’s a story about relationships: friendship and love. Loyalty. Courage. Overcoming fears. Regrets. Redemption. It was never meant to be focused on the clown, Pennywise, even though he does play a significant role. It is truly “The Losers,” as they’re affectionately called in the book, that make It work on so many different levels. It was that shift in mentality that allowed me to enjoy the movies and the book as much as I did. Of course, it helps to view things from an adult lens as opposed to the one we had when we were 9 or 10 years old. It follows these friends and their adventures in the small town of Derry both past and present, as they are haunted and stalked by a vengeful clown spirit that won’t let them go. Or, is it the kids then turned adults who won’t let It go? Hmm. It could be both…

Sorry Pennywise, It aint all about you
Sorry Pennywise, It ain’t all about you

There are large portions of this very large book that don’t implicitly involve Pennywise the clown. So if you go into It expecting a ton of scary clown thrills, you will likely be disappointed. To be sure, there are a fair share of chills, and the spirit of Pennywise permeates the subtext of the story, but as I said it is more about relationships and righting old wrongs. The more you care about the human characters, the more you will get out of this book. And for the most part, I was quite invested in the human characters, even if Stephen King does seem to go on and on and on at times. He is an exceptionally skilled writer, no doubt about that, but It easily could have been trimmed to around 700-800 pages without losing its soul. Hell, it would have been even better had it been!

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The first page sets up the infamous sewer scene, one of the most iconic moments in horror literature. Poor little Georgie just had to be on that rainy street on that rainy day, didn’t he? But in the famous words of Frederick Douglass, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” And what a struggle Georgie had with Pennywise! A struggle that would cost Georgie his arm and ultimately, his incredibly young life. And with that struggle, we get the progression that we need to drive the story forward. Georgie’s older brother, Bill Denbrough, and his “Loser” friends, are then moved to action and sworn to vengeance. Even if it does take them 27 long years…

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As I said, Pennywise doesn’t always show up, but man, when he does, he steals the scene. As you can see, Stephen King has a way with words. It’s nothing overly complex. In fact, it’s pretty straight forward and simple. But he has a way of painting these pictures in your head. At least here he does, anyhow. My favorite line from this page is a very simple but creepy one: “There was a clown in the stormdrain.” Like, what?! It conjures such an unsettling image in the mind that you can’t help but feel a little uneasy, especially if you were George himself. Six year old George, no less! So It definitely opens up with a bang. I won’t spoil the rest!

Fuck that boat, Georgie! Get the hell on out!
Fuck that boat, Georgie! Get the hell on out!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The best cover of It ever released
The best cover of It ever released (October 1, 1987)

The 2016 Scribner edition I read in particular is 1,153 pages long. Not every page is as thrilling as the first couple pages you see here, so some readers have expressed disappointment or even “bait-and-switch” in the most extreme cases. I don’t think it’s bait-and-switch. For example, look at almost any Godzilla movie. Godzilla rarely appears for a very long running time in his movies, yet they are not bait-and-switch. The same with It and Pennywise. You just have to be ready to dive into Derry and its world, its cast of flawed and imperfect human characters. If you want unabashed wanton clown terror mayhem, then go watch Art the Clown in the Terrifier movies. Don’t read Stephen King’s It because you would only be setting yourself up for disappointment.

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For those patient enough however to stick it through, I think you will find It to be a more rewarding read than not. I really enjoyed it, and would easily give it 4+ stars had it been trimmed down a good 250-300 pages or so. Also, toward the end, there is a certain scene with Beverly Marsh that thankfully did not appear in the movie that completely took me out of it and made me go “WHAT?!?!” I had to read that particular part 3-4 times to believe my eyes. WTF Stephen King?! You’ll know it when you read it. I found it gross and completely unnecessary to the story. Some have defended that part by saying Mr. King did his job — it is the job of the author in a horror book to shock and offend, but “that moment” came so out of left field for me that I cannot comprehend or defend it in any way. But It certainly has earned its place in horror literature lore, and I do recommend diehard horror fans to read It at least once before all is said and done.

3HalfStars

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