Cemetery Dance – Feb. 2023
Tyson Parks, a washed-up horror writer huffing the last fumes of his former successes, endures a humiliating meeting with his editor. His new novel is crap, unacceptable. Why can’t he produce the hits like he used to? Tyson promises a rewrite but knows he doesn’t have it in him. Worse, he’s already spent the advance. Pushing sixty, bordering on alcoholism and debt, how long can Tyson hang on to the comfortable life his fading talent secured for him? Desperate men are dangerous in fiction. So are long-suffering women who only want to help.
Enter his live-in girlfriend Sarah, a woman of taste with money of her own, whom Tyson worries will any day now see him for the fraud he is. But Sarah hasn’t given up on Tyson. In fact, she surprises him with a gift for his 59th birthday: a valuable antique to replace his worn-out writing desk. This piece of Gothic artwork, an 18th-century occult altarpiece, may give him the inspiration he needs. Of course it does, but as in all good horror fiction, there is a heavy price to pay. Flush with his second-act success, Tyson becomes a willing vehicle for an ancient, unspeakable evil.
Fracassi’s Gothic is awash in familiar horror tropes: the Faustian bargain, the cursed object with a dark history. I was instantly reminded‑gleefully so‑of In the Mouth of Madness, Trilogy of Terror, and Rosemary’s Baby. Even the setting feels like something out of an Ira Levin story, evoking the simple pleasures of a bygone New York: jaunts through the Strand bookstore and Met museum, martini-fueled power lunches, sparkling cocktail parties at tony townhouses. The novel’s historical section, brief but effective, references M.G. Lewis and Horace Walpole with its damp subterranean crypts, dripping vaulted ceilings, and creaking iron gates. The altar, black basalt stone with unusual carvings, is the creation of a powerful magician who has an equally powerful adversary. Back in the present, a mysterious woman is desperate to retrieve her family’s lost artifact before its evil can be released into the world. Words have power, we are reminded, and destruction can be communicated through the latest bestseller—that is, if the public even reads anymore. We can only hope.
Horror fans will appreciate the homages to King and Poe, among others, but the winks and elbow nudges never eclipse the spine-tingling suspense or moments of glorious gross-out gore. Built on a solid structure, Gothic holds up the weight of its more giggling-inducing moments with aplomb. I laughed at the climax, but in a good way—the laughter at the final bend in the roller coaster. I know a book is good when I want to start the ride all over again. Minor characters are skillfully drawn, padding out a believable world in which I was happy to lose myself for a few days. I can easily see Gothic made into a blockbuster movie, bolstering my faith that classic horror can always be revived. Five enthusiastic stars!