This review of "Thanksgiving Massacre" is the second of three reviews you won with the awesome Pig package in "Chinese New Year Celebration" .
If I were to pick a genre above all else that I write, I guess it would be Romance. There’s love in pretty much all of my stories. But I also like a good horror story. I love writing for "SCREAMS!!!" , and this is just the kind of story that I’d write – it’s all nice and calm(ish) for the most part and then a solid thwack and twist at the end. Blood, guts, gore – yeah, all fine, but a nice little psychy kind of punch at the end is right up my alley.
So, of course, I really liked Thanksgiving Massacre. Wow, that looks appalling in writing!
Your opening paragraph drags the reader in. worst day of my life is a powerful statement and all readers probably take on a ‘oh yeah?’ kind of mentality, but Tyler socks it to us pretty quickly – the murder of his family. On Thanksgiving, no less. It’s the slightly snarky, cynical tone as Tyler releases those questions that heightens the punchline he gives at the end of the story. I really liked My name is Tyler Evans, and this is my story. – an intriguing way to end the opening paragraph. We know we’re now going to get to ‘see’ what last Thanksgiving was like and since we know this has been given the Horror/Scary genre we can settle in to be scared.
This little story contains several horror aspects and doesn’t actually start with the murder of Tyler’s family, but long before that when Tyler saw his murdering neighbour taken away. There is nothing to say that Tyler was involved or any threats had been made, but the concern his parents show is a little unnverving. I got to wondering if Tyler had somehow witnessed the murder of the woman or if The Butcher kind of gave him the ‘you’re next’ look as he was being hustled off, as those things would definitely get the parents concerned. Tyler’s response to his mum’s concern is pretty logical and kind of classic: parents freak out, kids go ‘meh’ and eat something.
Tyler’s quite disconnected himself from that concern and so it’s quite a jolt when he actually gets home and finds that things aren’t actually calm. It’s a nice ‘oooh’ moment for the reader too. Fascinating truth about the poodle – Tyler thinks first about the poodle not being allowed outside. That’s what gets him antsy first and foremost, until his brain goes that one further step and sees the blood. Honestly, I continually wonder what I’d do if I got home and found my front door open. Mostly I’d be shrieking for my cat from outside, getting her in the car with me if I could, and then screaming around the corner to the police station that’s there. Hopefully! I cannot believe Tyler went inside, but I can also understand why he did, and I think that most people would still do it (probably me too, despite my plan!).
The Thriller/Suspense genre comes into play here as he’s walking around finding his parents and then wondering where his sister is but probably knowing already that she’s dead. The utter suspense/freak of looking for a dead loved one is a great way to ramp up feelings in the reader too. It’s kind of a ‘read through my fingers’ moment. Thought it fascinating that he never once seems to think about the killer still being in the house!
This is a bloody story, and full of violence, but it’s almost understated in part. Sure, there’s blood dripping down pictures and all over the bathroom mirror, but you state eyeless corpse and then go into more detail about the knife in the father’s chest as if the eyelessness is sort of a standard thing. I actually like that in horror writing. Too much blood, guts and gore and the reader stops believing. On the other hand, we shouldn’t be surprised to see how much blood is around the place here, because we know that this is The Butcher’s work. Not explicitly stated until later, but we know. I think you’ve hit the fine line of ‘just right’ in terms of details.
I had to groan at Tyler being made to eat Thanksgiving dinner. Such poor taste!!!
Liked that you linked back to motives with regards The Butcher, but you’ve opened up a raft of questions with the revelation that Tyler is his son. How did that happen? When did it happen? Why did he wait so long to get back to the family (sorry, what I mean there, is if Tyler was 13 when he was arrested, what happened in all the years prior to that?), did Tyler’s pseudo-father know of the relationship? So, lots of questions raised and none of them answered. And, honestly, you couldn’t really do it here as it’d kill the punchline, but just do consider what reader questions can be the outcome of what you write.
As if Tyler’s parentage wasn’t enough of a shock, the last two sentences hit us with more. They both tie strongly to the Horror/Scary and Thriller/Suspense genres, and definitely give the reader a ‘whoa’ moment. I do have a few concerns about this final reveal (mentioned below) but it’s still a great story nonetheless, and would be worthy of the horror contests on WDC. And, given Tyler’s admission, there’s no reason we couldn’t see him popping up now and then indulging.
Things to Work On
Young Tyler drops us a bombshell in the last sentence but there’s absolutely no lead-up to that. Now, I like the bombshell kind of ending; it’s a ‘holy crap, what did I miss?’ kind of moment that makes you go and read over with a fine comb, but I think here it’s a little too disjointed. I think there should be some tiny, tiny inkling of the blood-liking. But we don’t get that – he freaks out when he sees the blood, stomach lurching, vomiting, fainting. Okay, understandable at the first instance, but to end up saying that he liked the blood comes a little out of left-field. Is there some little way you can prick the reader with a ‘wait, that’s an odd reaction’ kind of thing?
I also mention this bombshell ending because it ties in with the opening of the story. We start with Tyler being grateful for being alive but end with the unpleasant revelation of liking blood. It doesn’t quite match up – unless, again only coming to me just now, he’s being totally ironic and flippant in the opening lines. So I’m just thinking there needs to be a little bit of connection here.
This is going to sound a bit weird, but I’d like to have seen a bit more of the house – or at least actually know where people were. We find Lisa in the bathroom (how old is she, by the way?), but are Tyler’s mum and dad in the same room? There are pictures dripping with blood so I’m presuming the lounge and we have mention of the fire poker (ick) but I’d like to have been a little surer of the surroundings. Is the dining table set? Does the kitchen have a wonderful smell of roast Turkey? Is the Turkey sitting on a tray waiting to be carved? Just a few more visual points would really highlight the horror of what’s happened on this holiday. And giving us little nice homey sorts of things rams home the horror.
Question – why does Tyler have a bloody face? I get that he was cradling his mom and so got a bit bloody there, but his face?
Liked this a lot. It starts straight up with horror but then slides into something quite normal and calm before morphing back to horror, with the couple of punches at the end as we realise things are way worse than expected. And once we get to the end, and Tyler’s strange little reveal, the opening paragraph comes back to mind and takes on new angles. When you’ve read it a couple of times, that opening para starts getting more and more sinister. I don’t know if that’s just me, now wondering how murderous Tyler has (or will) become but I find it freakier the more I read it.
I can’t recall if I’ve ever seen you enter "SCREAMS!!!" but if you write horror like this, you should be entering!
I do have concerns just how those final sentences fit in without any lead in whatsoever (for a person reading the story for the first time). Though Tyler has definite right to freak out when he sees his family I think if you added in a few moments where he sees something or thinks something ‘normal’ amidst the blood and death then the reader is more likely to not be too blindsided by those final lines and the opening para. Gosh, I hope I’ve made sense with my babble about that. Do let me know if I haven’t!!!!!
As always, with any reviews, please don’t hesitate to contact me if you need any clarification regarding my comments.