Summer Reading

Ordinary Horror

by David Searcy

Viking, 230 pp., $24.95

Searcy's debut novel is a masterpiece of quiet, reflective horror. It's so quiet, in fact, that it took me a half-dozen chapters to figure out it was a horror novel, though perhaps the word "horror" is too strong in this case. It's more like a nightmare than anything else, inspiring a vague sense of unease that refuses to completely diminish. Searcy's tale revolves around septuagenarian widower Frank Delabano, who lives alone in a noneventful suburban neighborhood that might as well be Anytown, USA. During the day Frank tends to his beloved rose garden, and at night he sleeps restlessly, waking with the nagging feeling that something's not right. There are mole-like trails appearing in his garden, and to get rid of them he orders some other, possibly carnivorous plants out of a magazine ad, which are guaranteed to stop the pesky varmints. When these towering, blue South American mystery plants arrive, they foreshadow all manner of bizarre goings-on, though whether there's actually any mystery at all -- perhaps it's all in his head -- is the novel's biggest conceit. What's going on, other than a lonely, old man who may or may not be going insane? Hard to say. Still, Searcy's remarkable ability to capture these "ordinary horrors" -- the sounds of faraway dog mutterings, the depressing silence of a neighborhood alley at noontime, a child's morose cries -- infuses the novel with an almost Lovecraftian aura of steadily mounting dread.

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Ordinary Horror, David Searcy

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