Indie Horror Review #5

Blue Meat Blues by Joshua McGrath

In my quest for finding indie (self-published) horror novels to review, I consulted a list on Goodreads and deliberately chose the book with the least reviews and the weirdest cover–I’ve always had a soft spot for the underdog. I checked out the author’s profile page and see that his photo resembles a brooding Rive Gauche intellectual. Sold!

I ordered the printed book (I don’t Kindle) and dug into this love letter to misanthropy. A cocktail of sociopathy and vague spiritual ennui. A dumpster full of human meat with high hopes.

The writer gives the done to death dystopian genre a fresh twist by creating a very unique picture of futuristic horror. This mise en scene depicts a world encased in waves of tar—that shit burns and lingers on the skin and seems to have its own life: a churning, creeping hunger. The survivors of this new world: a hierarchy of ferals, smoothies, and slaves, are as altered as the landscape we assume was once earth. They cling to a remembered humanity of sorts, although they are not quite human–perhaps their flesh is only an organic breeding ground for a new life form. Whatever it is, it’s ugly. There’s hair too, growing in the ocean—something organic, some strange glowing fiber optics of the future?

The nameless protagonist, sometimes referred to as the Blue Devil, is a pill-popping misanthrope who was living a normal life (I suppose) when the curtain fell (nice description)—and the black tar enveloped the world. Was this the result of some nuclear war? Global warming finally kicking our asses? After weeks, months (time is meaningless in dystopian fiction) a prophet named Jesus (giggle) shows up at the Blue Devil’s door and then…

Christ, I’m really not sure how our protagonist gets from A (a survivor of world disaster) to B (braining citizens with a tyre iron, apparently his only joy in life) to C (the unwitting carrier for the new world biodiversity after someone slips him a hairball, fiber optic mickey while he’s on a mission to assassinate Jesus).

Or something like that. There is a lot, too much for this reader, left unexplained in this story that (regrettably) lacks a clear storyline. We poor readers do need to tether to logic sometimes, or at least that wonderful, old story structure chart the English teachers used to wheel out on the chalkboard. Remember rising action, climax, falling action? It’s worked since Aristotle, and damn it, it still does. Give me a through-line of a good chase, toss me a life jacket of despised love, a revenge plot from start to finish…something!

In so many of these indie books I read there seems to be an eschewing of classic story structure replaced by flat, episodic scenes of this happened, then this happened, and then this happened…going absolutely nowhere. Blue Meat Blues has scene after scene of violence, bodies disjointed in horrific mutilations (no one dies), without any real purpose. I suppose in a nihilistic sense that’s the point, but once that point has been established after the first violent scene on page one and I don’t care, why should I continue to not care? Follow me?

This all sounds like I hated the book and that’s not the case. What saved me from tossing it into the meat bin unfinished is that within this bizarro, apocalyptic tone poem is a unique voice and vibrant imagination. McGrath’s a gifted writer. There’s something definitely there; I’m just not sure what it is. And, compared to some of the indies I’ve been reading lately, this absurdist prose soars. The ending brought enough of the loose hair follicles together to give it a satisfying resolution.

Blue Meat Blues is a strangely haunting story. I can’t say I actually enjoyed it, but I was fascinated by it, although from a distance, a quite distancing distance.

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