Review: Midnight Picnic by Nick Antosca
Monday, October 26, 2009
by Nick Antosca
Word Riot Press, 2009
Paperback, 182 pages
ISBN: 0977934330 (Amazon.com)
9780977934331 (Book Depository)
$15.95 / £9.72
Midnight Picnic is GUD contributor Nick Antosca's second novel, but is written with such assurance and skill that it might more easily be his twenty-second. On the first page, Antosca draws the reader in to unwilling protagonist Bram's world, which is about to get uncannily strange.
Bram's living a mundane, drab existence over a bar called Moms until the night he comes home tired and accidentally runs over the bar's dog, Baby. His attempts to succour the injured animal show him to be basically decent, but ineffectual. He wants to do the right thing, yet gives up when it becomes too difficult. This is the issue Bram will have to face up to as the story continues.
The skeleton of a young boy is found, and his spirit makes a connection with Bram that takes him on a nightmare journey into the land of the dead. Here, he learns far more about himself--and the dead and living--than he ever thought possible. However, at heart, Midnight Picnic is not a ghost story. It's a tale of redemption and the healing effects of time.
The central premise is that, given time to reflect, we can all come to a realisation of where we have gone wrong in our lives. No matter how despicable our crimes, redemption is possible, but it comes not from outside, but from the person themselves, from their changed relationship with themselves and the other dead. It's a powerful message in a book that refuses to label anyone as evil.
Only Adam is depicted as incapable of this process, perhaps because he died too young. For him, time to reflect has only bred hatred; he is locked into childish ideas of right, wrong, and punisment.
All Antosca's characters are vividly realised, from Bram's lost soul of an on-off girlfriend to the old man who lives in the woods, and has, in the past, done whatever it took to stay hidden there. Before vengeance comes for him, he seems to have already learnt his lesson, telling another intruder on his solitude, "I wouldn't do anything to you...".
This book is relatively short, but the reader needn't feel short-changed. There's a complete story here, one that compels as well as entertains. It's fascinating to travel with Bram and Adam into the lands of the dead, a place into which the living often stray, unawares, a land that's depicted as chillingly as the dead landscape of Cormac McCarthy's The Road.
An excellent book to read on Halloween, with your head under the covers and a heavy flashlight handy.
Nick Antosca's story 'Soon You Will be Gone and Possibly Eaten' appears in GUD Issue 3.
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