My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Aw, who’s a cute wittle puppy? Who’s a coot wittew puppy? Who’s a…AH! AH! AH!
Son of a Bitch is a collaborative work by Andre Duza and Wrath James White and recently published by Deadite Press, the horror imprint of Eraserhead Press. The story is simple: A creature who is part demon and part dog is born and wreaks havoc, particularly after it is possessed by the soul of a hitman. The book is bloody and gory, nearly to excess, but it is a horror novel, so as long as don’t mind huge amounts of blood, guts, and violence in the book’s short run, you’ll know what you’re getting.
The characters are well-developed, or at least as well developed as you can expect with such a short novel, so they’re developed about as much as they need to be. We learn what we need to know during the course of the book, including the basic personalities, the motivations, etc. The characters are simple in this regard, but not unbelievable, especially given the short time we’re given to know them, kind of like meeting someone at a party and you get to know them but not in any deep sense. The story is sound, even if it follows a very typical structure, with plot points placed at almost exactly the right spots. It works, even if it would have been nice to have a little more innovation.
The overall feel of the book is hard to describe, which is part of the problem. While officially a horror novel, something I don’t dispute, it has more of an “Evil Dead” feel where it’s tempered by a dark humor. Therein lies the central problem with this novel. It takes a little too much of an “Evil Dead” approach, and not always successfully. This requires some explanation.
When mixing humor into any genre other than a comic novel, but especially in a horror novel, the jokes can get taken in one of three ways. The first is that the audience gets the joke and laughs with you at the right time. This happens a few times in this novel, so kudos to the authors there.
The second is when the joke goes over the audience’s head. They simply don’t get it and only a few audience member will get the joke. Not an ideal situation, but not exactly the end of the world. The story simply moves on without acknowledgment of the attempted humor.
The third way a joke can be taken is one that should be avoided at all costs. This is when the audience gets the joke, or the attempt at a joke, but doesn’t find it funny. In stand-up comedy, this would be the typical “groaner” or even a “boo.” This only works if completely intentional and followed by a joke that acknowledges how bad the last one was.
Unfortunately, in literature, you don’t usually get such a followup as it’s generally ineffective. And sadly, there’s a few times this happens in Son of a Bitch. In a few places, the reader realizes that the situation is absurd or there’s an attempt at a joke, but it falls flat, mostly with the juxtaposition of the serious and violent situation the characters find themselves in. While I can respect the heavy risk the authors took with this approach, I also can’t ignore when they missed the mark.
The reader should also be warned that the book has a heavily “urban” feel to it (you probably know what I mean, but if you don’t, I’m referring to racial stereotypes). If you’re uncomfortable with racial epithets or references, this book is probably not going to sit well with you, even if you’ve got a generalized sense of humor, and I point this out because of certain sensitivities that I’ve witnessed in society. I, for one, didn’t mind and felt that it added character to the novel while at the same time acknowledging those stereotypes and ridiculing them in the process. The dialogue itself is a bit striking, but you get used to it. Like “Pulp Fiction,” it’s mostly reminding us that this book is not about nice people. Pretty much every character is not someone you would want to have anything to do with in real life, from Demetrius, the dog breeder who breeds dogs mostly for fighting, or the hitman Warlock. Whether this book actually makes you like the bad guys is questionable as they really aren’t likable and Demetrius is only barely redeemable. But in this context, they have a strange way of working. Up to a point.
Son of a Bitch is not going to be for everyone, but what it does, it generally does well. At the same time, it misses the mark a few times with the humor enough to border on an identity crisis, whether it should be funny or a horror novel, or if the jokes are simply in poor taste. The characters are developed mostly for the purposes of the story, but anything outside the context of the story tends to be lost and remain mostly unacknowledged.
Son of a Bitch by Andre Duza and Wrath James White earns 3 cuddly attack puppies out of 5.