Brian Hodge's newest novel, World of Hurt, has been described as "a gut-punch," and I will gleefully go along with that assessment—it's short, sharp as a stick in the eye, and hurts like hell the more you think about it.
Come to think of it, those terms have often just as easily described much of Hodge's work in our field. For years now, I've found his stories in anthologies often the best in terms of being thought-provoking and/or shocking in nature. There is some kind of elegance in his descriptions of the grotesque that seems anchored to the simplicity and matter-of-factness with which he proposes them. Some of the anthologies have faded in memory, but Hodge's work in them (like Gary Braunbeck's) lives on in the nightmare world.
In this brief but weighty tome, questioning the existence and nature of God is only the beginning.
It's the kind of novel for which you think you are prepared—but sometimes, when traveling its roads, you want to get off at the next exit. There is no preparation for the absolute darkness at the center of World of Hurt—and it works more effectively than the run of the mill monster fiction. This messes with your mind, giving you a bad taste in the mouth you can't get rid of. Taking you back to the darkness of every death you've witnessed, and if you haven't witnessed any, giving you a taste of what's to come. It ain't pretty.
As a teenager, Andrei was killed in an accident in which his friend's car was submerged for nearly an hour. The friend died, but Andrei was brought back, minus his memory of the event. But now, years later, his memory is returning—and his experience wasn't that of the "white light" and welcoming feeling that so many near-death victims remember. No, those memories were false. What he remembers is a whole lot more frightening. The returning memory has reduced him to a neurotic mess who won't leave his sister's house for fear of really dying, and returning to that place he almost reached when he was younger.
But now, thanks to the Internet, Andrei seems to have found a soul mate, a young woman who has similar memories of her own near-death experience. An energized Andrei makes plans to visit. But someone else visits her first. It's one of the most disturbing scenes you'll ever read, partly because it's so forthright. And for Andrei, things go from bad to worse.
Who is Manon, the strangely worldly young woman who works for Andrei's sister Janika? She also seems to have coincidentally appeared with suspicious motives. And what about Bruce, the bland and truly "forgettable" traveler whose circle narrows, leading to Andrei and a fateful meeting that will bring him back to face what he saw when he was dead?
A Brian Hodge work is always populated by characters whose voices and reactions ring true, creating an interesting paradox in which heavy themes are discussed by normal people in terms we can all understand. The question may be, do we want to? And are we prepared if Hodge's dark vision is even close to reality?
Brian Hodge (The Darker Saints, Wild Horses) continues to
deliver some of the most horrifying fiction ever put to paper without
seeming to break a sweat. Indeed, his deceptively simple syntax hides a
sting as easily as tall grass hides a snake. By the time you feel that
sting, it's too late and you've been affected. There's no need for
classic monsters here, but you might find yourself wishing for lighter
moments. Like much of his work, World of Hurt goes places you don't
always want to go, philosophically as well as physically. There are
scenes here that can truly be called "chilling." But our field will
always benefit from such serious questioning of the universal order of
things, reminding us that literature of the dark fantastic is literature