I’m off to Coventry tomorrow, a road trip with National Express for a This is Horror live event consisting of readings from Alison Littlewood, Sarah Pinborough, and Howard Linske (hosted by Jasper Bark). I’m pretty excited about it, despite the hours I’ll be confined on a coach, not only because these people produce excellent work but because previous This is Horror events have been great fun – so if you’re in the neighbourhood, pop along to Coventry library. At the last event I attended I was lucky enough to hear work from Adam Nevill, Jasper Bark, and Joseph D’Lacey. I’d heard D’Lacey before, reading an extract from his wonderfully weird story ‘The Failing Flesh’, and since then I’ve enjoyed his Blood Fugue and ‘The Kill Crew’, but the last time I heard him he was reading from his This is Horror chapbook, ‘Roadkill’. Here’s what I thought of it…
From its dramatic opening of evocative screaming similes, ‘Roadkill’ is a relentless work that grabs you and drags you along at breakneck speed. A lot of its fast pace is achieved through D’Lacey’s short paragraphs, many of which are only one sentence in length, and the layout contributes as well with lots of white space that has you racing from one section to the next – had it been presented as a continuous block of text the density would have diminished the quickness crucial to a story that takes place in less than two minutes of narrative time. The frequent reminders of speed, coupled with references to time passing – 5 seconds, 7 seconds, 8 – adds to the frenetic quality so that you’ll be turning pages so quickly you’ll want to wear gloves to avoid paper cuts.
Not to dismiss this as merely a quick read. There’s plenty to ponder as well, from mysterious vehicles never (yet?) known to a society that makes races an integral part of their culture, a quasi-religious rite of passage. What exactly is a Dubb Vindicator, “born in ceremony” and welded together with blood? Why does he narrator hear “To swerve from destiny is to deny it” as part of an internal litany? D’Lacey sketches in just enough by way of answers to intrigue, to set the imagination to work, without miring the wheels of his story in the mud of extensive world-building or info-dumping. There are the Gentleborn, the Boymen (boy-racers?) and there are The Scythers, The Mashers, The Steamers producing the volatile Blindfire. It’s a strange world all the richer, in my opinion, for D’Lacey’s broad brushstrokes. It makes reading more of an active process, as if to say ‘if you’re riding shotgun you can at least read the map’. You do not read ‘Roadkill’ as a passive passenger.
There are two drivers in ‘Roadkill’ but we share the experience with just one of them, D’Lacey using a first person perspective to give us an intimate insight of the race while heightening the danger element of the drive by manipulating our sympathy for the narrator. Yet his opponent, a girl equally as determined, demands our respect as well so that from the outset we invest interest in the story – who will win?
Well, I won’t spoil that for you. But there are perils en route, from suicidal foxes that seem to have a spiritual significance to strange walls and columns and a sudden darkness so that ‘who wins?’ is not our only concern as we race to the Edge that may or may not be the finish line (it seems to me to be something more). D’Lacey takes you to this Edge with a deftness of detail that spares little time for the superfluous, refusing to over steer in any way that may take ‘Roadkill’ off course while ensuring you have an enjoyably tense time along the way.
D’Lacey writes here with the same action-packed pulpiness (in a good way) I’ve come to expect, only with a certain starkness and suggestive quality that adds a particular gravitas. It’s a fun, fast read that offers something more and I recommend it wholeheartedly. If I was to have any criticism, it’s that it doesn’t seem to quite fit the ‘horror’ remit I’d have expected from This is Horror, but to be honest I didn’t really care about that.
I didn’t have time to.