I read a book much like the one you’re holding now. And this is what happened to me. Don’t make the same mistake. Please, put it down. Or better yet, throw it away. This is your last warning. Turn the page, and you’re on your own. Actually, that’s not true. Turn the page and he’ll be there, watching you. (Will Haunt You, p. 1)
The opening of Will Haunt You is an instant hook. A horror book saying that something bad will happen to me if I read it? Count me in. Although the concept of read-this-book-then-you-die is hardly new, with titles such as The Book With No Name on the market, I was excited at the prospect of seeing how Brian Kirk would break the fourth wall.
Will Haunt You starts at the reunion gig of an old rock band, where we learn that its guitarist, Jesse Wheeler, has recently read a book that his bandmate lent to him, and that he has been sober for seven years after an incident that happened while he was intoxicated. I usually find that the first chapter in any book tells you everything you need to know about a protagonist; I instantly discovered that Jesse Wheeler is the most unlikable protagonist I’ve ever read. The narrative voice very quickly descends into oversexualising young women who “moan like a petulant child” and serve no purpose other than to be objectified. Descriptions include:
“She swayed her hips, childbearing hips, the old man in me mumbled, and raised the shirt further to reveal the swollen underside of her breasts. Just a couple of inches more and the baby feeders would be shown. That’s the worst part about having a kid. Tits take on new context.”
But the award for worst line goes to: “Her pert nipples vibrating like doorstop springs.” This cartoon-esque style of writing is intended to be humorous, but it misses the mark and instead renders Jesse an unlikeable creep. Within the first fifteen pages I was unsure whether I was going to root for Jesse in the zany adventure to come. But the issue of not rooting for a protagonist in a horror book is that you are continually disappointed when they don’t die.
Unfortunately, negative tropes were peppered throughout. From over-sexualised women to disfigurement-as-evil to some dodgy racial elements (for example, during some medical experiments the specimens’ skin turns darker as they become feral), Will Haunt You is full of damaging stereotype-enforcing clichés that are boring and jarring to what is otherwise an interesting plot. Shortly after the reunion, strange things start to happen to Jesse. He is catapulted into weird mock-ups of past situations or places and is unsure of who or what is real. We find out that Jesse has a dark past and a huge secret and Kirk keeps the reader waiting and guessing at what actually happened the night before he became sober. However, it is unclear whether the novel is about redemption or penance for Jesse’s misdeeds, or a metaphor for his alcoholism and subsequent sobriety; either way, the execution is far from perfect.
Disappointingly, the attempts at breaking the fourth wall, supposedly reminiscent of House of Leaves and Mister B Gone, actually just amounted to the occasional reference to the fact that reading the book might have some bad effect on you and that there might a camera watching you. For example, “I opened the door and got out, never once seeing the little button on the steering wheel containing a camera. Just like the one now watching you.” At times this feels a little shoehorned in, almost like an afterthought, and certainly didn’t provoke any feelings of unease. It’s also not sufficiently explained why a book in particular is required for the haunting to begin.
The main positive of Will Haunt You is that Kirk is clearly a good writer in terms of pace and storytelling. The short choppy style suited the narrative and gave a noir edge to the fast-paced action-horror. The plot, although not airtight, develops well and forces Jesse into obscure situation after obscure situation; fans of the surreal will definitely enjoy that aspect of it.
With tired tropes, shoehorned fourth-wall breaking and some dodgy sex writing worthy of the Bad Sex Awards, Will Haunt You has not reached its potential. Which leaves only one more warning left to give, albeit for different reasons:
I read a book much like the one you’re holding now. Don’t make the same mistake. Please, put it down. Or better yet, throw it away.