Sunday, April 1, 2012

Snow by Ronald Malfi

Before we get started, a couple quick rants.

When a character in a book starts ranting about how bad ass and shocking and not politically correct they are, like Kate Jansen does in her first scene, I get turned off. "Politically correct" is to conservatives what "dive bar" is to hipsters: a meaningless buzzword denoting...I dunno, authenticity? How cool you are?

Whatever, son. My people don't even say that shit anymore. Besides, Kate Jansen is a terrible character. She's one of those female characters that male horror writers constantly create: boorish, abrasive, overly pleased with herself, and probably into obnoxious 80s hair metal. She's set up to be the love interest because...I guess every story needs one? but I can't really say I was rooting for her to make it out of Woodson alive. And, of course, there's a scene where the male characters are trying to convince her to listen to them even as she tries to assert herself. One of 'em says something to the effect of "We'll worry about women's lib later. This is about survival!"

First off, who in this day and age says women's lib? Second, ugh, get over yourself. I have a feeling that, if I were to meet Ronald Malfi, we wouldn't get along. Which is a shame. He's got more game than most genre writers.

Anyway, on to the show.

So, snow, huh? Ever get the feeling that horror is running out of ideas?

Maybe that's harsh. I mean, there's meat on them bones. Part of the reason The Thing is so effective is that snow isolates and entraps. You can't move around easily, cars break down and get buried, and between the howling wind and the whirling snow you can't see a damned thing. I once hiked through a freak snowstorm heading for a date and it was like walking through an empty apocalyptic world.

So, snow can be scary. And there's some really scary stuff at the beginning of the book. The poor doomed quartet pick up a wandering man lost in the snow. He's out of his head, distant and babbling about his missing daughter. As they're driving along and the man's behavior becomes more erratic, the others begin to doubt there is a daughter at all, until the protagonist sees her in passing only to discover she has no face...

Woo! That's some good stuff! I was really excited about this book until it turned into another damn zombie novel.

That's right. It's another damned zombie novel.

More to the point, it's a story that feels like someone wanted to write a zombie story but knew they were played out. It's still a siege story where people struggle to get what they need while hordes of dead people try to eat their flesh. There's guns a'blazin' and people a'dyin' and all you need to do is switch the travelers for homesteaders and the skin-suits for Apaches and you have the original siege western.

American paperback horror novels read more or less the same. It's like a recipe. Insert:
1) Monster or killer with a strong visual description. Check. Snow flurries with lights at their core, scythes for hands, and the broken meat puppets the control.
2) A bunch of people who might as well have "future victim" tattooed on their heads? Check. Nan, Fred, the poor doomed Shawna.
3) Religious weirdo screaming like a schizophrenic Baptist and who is likely more dangerous than the monsters? Check. The fat kid in the church whose name currently escapes me.
4) Guns, guns, guns! Plus the ability to pick up a firearm without any training and instantly shoot like Chow Yun Fat in The Killer? Check. They raid a gun store, grab pistols, and the rest of the book turns into runny runny, shooty shooty.
5) A big fucking explosion at the end? Check. The last remaining sheriff's deputy, who I kept picturing as looking like a bald Henry Rollins, takes out a bunch of the monsters by opening up a gas tank and shooting a flamethrower into it. This ain't no gothic horror, people! This is 'murrican horror! With guitars and people who swear and explosions and cannibals! Fuck yeah!
6)Characters in the middle of a crisis taking a moment to flash back to their personal issues? Check. Kate pauses the story to talk about her non-engagement and Todd talks about the time he had a problem with gambling but was able to pay the guy, who beat him up anyway, which makes good business sense for a loanshark.

A friend of mine who happens to be a proper southern lady (hi Lauren) has a theory about women: they're either ladies or broads.

I think stories are the same way. Stories can be divided roughly into high-falutin' tales and roughneck blue-collar yarns. It's sometimes tricky to separate the two. I'd argue that Joe R. Lansdale's work is tales disguised as yarns and The Yattering and Jack is a yarn told by a guy who usually tells tales.

Snow is definitely a yarn. It is definitely better than most, but it's still a type. You can quantify it, dissect it, and tune it. I've read a bunch of novels very similar to this one and it's sorta like comfort food. I try to keep to my healthy diet and big-city pretensions, but sometimes homeboy just wants a bacon cheeseburger.

I would definitely come back to Malfi. I think he's a good writer. Every now and again he'd come up with a simile or description that took my breath away. The dude has a bit of a poet to him and I respect poets.

I think he's a good writer. I'm betting this isn't his best book.

Also, I have a bad habit of writing fanfic and as I was going through the novel, I kept thinking "this could be improved with Jedi."


Simone... said...

Everything is improved with Jedi.

Christopher Shearer said...

I haven't read SNOW yet because I'm not working ahead, but I'll tell you that Ron doesn't think it's his best. He told me it was "just another Leisure horror novel." I'm reading FLOATING STAIRCASE now, which he is proud of. It's excellent quiet horror.

Jennifer Loring said...

Chris, that's pretty much the problem I've always had with Leisure. The standards seemed to be...lacking. I think Malfi's a good writer and I don't doubt that he can do better than this.

Joe, I had the same problems with the book. The sexist bs got under my skin immediately, and then--as far as the actual plot--there was cliche piled on cliche. In the beginning I was hoping this book would go somewhere else, but it never did. Meh.

R. D. DeMoss said...

I don't mind Leisure. It should be unique, though. I just got done watching the fifth installment of Final Destination, and I realized, I watched five of these horrible movies (honestly, I thought the first one was terrific and the rest struggled). But, I do enjoy giving chances to new stories, and if they're awful, I can either put the book down or turn the movie off More often than not, though, I am happy at the chance to spend a few hours enjoying the cheese.

As far as female characters go, I agree Kate was a poor excuse, but Shawna worked for me. I got into her story of how she developed from a girl who wouldn't date a certain type of guy into a girl that would give him a chance. She also demonstrated the potential for some interesting family conflict and the inner turmoil of having to see her loved ones killed. Although I liked the scene in which she died, I felt cheated that she was the one to go and not Kate. Of course, if this was Breeding Ground, Todd would have been sleeping with both of them, and possibly poor ole Nan, too.

Creature said...

Y'know, I didn't give enough credit to how much I liked Shawna. I really did. She had some strength and spirit, but it seemed the book didn't really have any place for her. She felt accidental, and she was the death I felt most sorry for.

Rhonda JJ said...

Love the "yarns vs. tales". That's going on a sticky note on my monitor. I agree with you on Lansdale's work, too.

I can't say I thought too much about the characters in this story. They weren't great. They weren't awful. They just existed. Great post.

Cin Ferguson said...

Well said, Joe. In your 'pyroclastic flow'... ;)

R-A-W, R-A-W

"You looking at the grand wizard, war lord vocal chord so vicious..."

I said many of the same things in my review. Back to the ammunition and the firearms,....ain't no way two people can go in a gun store, one pick out ammo the other pick out guns, and race out the store and always have a fresh supply of rounds that just HAPPEN to fit in the chamber AND are always in mean supply. I my perfect world, maybe, but in a horror blunder such as this? Ain't no way.

"Use your brain not your back use your brain not a gat
It's a party not a jack (for real)
Don't be scared of them people"....

Creature said...

*golf clap*

Cin, this is the best comment to anything I've ever done.

Cin Ferguson said...

Yeah, I got no idea why that song hit my brain when I read your review, but, "Joe" and 'pyroclastic flow,' just fit your style. :) I like the way you punch your notes. Real. Straight up. Not watered down. Sometimes smooth, sometimes rot-gut, but it is, what it cover up. :)

Personally, I like voicing the truth about what I find in prose or lyrics or any kind of art. And it's all subjective depending on who you are, where you come from or what your own paradigm. I have my own style which comes from loving the new 'youth' concepts, and being military for 30 years, being a healthcare provider and an overall rebel in a world that both conforms to complacency all too much and still thinks its unique. *Raises shot glasses of whiskey and rye*

Jeff Brooks said...

What's wrong with 80s hair metal?

I agreed with a lot of your thoughts. Kate was annoying at the get-go. Hated that chapter 1, but was good with the rest. I didn't like that they were decent shots when they hadn't really had any firearm training, but at least they didn't Walking Dead it, where they don't have firearm training AND they get headshots everytime (still love the show). Shawna also was a good character. I didn't give her nearly as much credit as I should have.

And yes, Jedi would have made the story all new kinds of awesome.

J.L. Benet said...

I did think Kate was kind of annoying and I never really cared about her. The thing about the fiance felt like one of those plot points in Romance novels that conveniently makes it okay for the hero and heroine to fall in love.

Christoph Weber said...

Just finished Snow by Ronald Malfi and I really liked it for being classic horror story. Could have had a little more suspense but it was comelling and original enough

Will Errickson said...

"...snow isolates and entraps. You can't move around easily, cars break down and get buried, and between the howling wind and the whirling snow you can't see a damned thing."

I've developed a pet theory the last couple years about cold weather & snowstorms being ideal settings for horror (while I think hot weather is great for crime fiction), precisely because of what you note. Think not just THE THING, but also AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, GHOST STORY, Dan Simmons's THE TERROR, Stephen King's "One for the Road," Alan Ryan's DEAD WHITE, and of course also King's THE SHINING...