Friday, January 9, 2015

Buster Voodoo review

    Buster Voodoo is a horror novel. I say this, at the beginning, because there should be no confusion about what sort of novel this is. A lot of novels put the word "horror" in front of themselves but very few are actually about terrifying the reader.

    They're about monsters, weirdness, or scares but rarely horror-horror. True horror is something beyond mere fright. Horror is about unsettling the reader. You can scare a reader but for a true horror novel, you need to make them disquieted with the world.

    Buster Voodoo is one of the rare novels which does so.

    The titular monster is a scare legend about a boogeyman-type figure in New Orleans. There have been a series of child-disappearances sixty years in the past and a number of them in the present day.  A young boy, later an old man, named Dixon had an experience in a haunted house which leads him to believe he might have some knowledge of what's really happening to the unwanted children going missing in his theme park.

    Is Buster Voodoo real or just the figment of a child's mind to give explanation to an all-too-mundane evil? Mason James Cole leaves the reader in doubt for much of the story as we deal with memories, imagination, and religious faith in the perspective of a deeply troubled man. Much of the novel is about dealing with Dixon's troubled relationship with his family and their history. Dixon's mother was an amateur occultist as well as a believer in Voodoo, practicing her faith while also conning white customers into believing in chicnanery.

    Dixon doesn't believe in Voodoo or, if he does, he's got a child's understanding of the religion due to his past experiences. What he does remember, however, is his friends and sister's disappearance during the events of the past. His sister returned, but his friends didn't, and he's starting to wonder if history is about to repeat itself.

    Much of the novel's flavor comes from Dixon's troubled mind. He works in a failing theme park, has a failed marriage with no children, poorly remembered childhood trauma, and a family with a history of mental illness. New Orleans takes on a sinister overcast as we see him deal with everything from racism to child abuse to suspicions of the hidden corruption all around him.

    H.P. Lovecraft was a master of combining hidden family secrets and tragedies alongside incomprehensible evils. I find it amusing that one of the books which really manages to capture the sense of Noir and horror he managed is a book from the perspective of a black protagonist.

    The treatment of Voodoo in the book, despite its somewhat questionable title, is respectful even as its up to the reader whether the people are following their religion correctly. It's also questionable whether anything magical is happening at all, again, until the very end.

    The book, eventually, ties with Hurricane Katrina as the capstone for the horrors afflicting Dixon's life. The mixture of real-world events and supernatural horror could have come off as exploitative but works well here. I can't, actually, think of anything I dislike about this book. If I were to press anything, I'd say some of the language in the book is racially charged but it's directed at our protagonist as a daily part of his troubled life.

    I.e. there's an in-story reason for it.

    In short, this is a very spooky novel. I was troubled by it and left thinking about what it meant after finishing it, which means it was the best kind of horror novel.


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