Greg F. Gifune
Macabre Ink, 2020.
Greg F. Gifune has written some mean shit here.
For horror fans familiar with his work, that’s not a surprise. If you aren’t familiar with his work, you should be.
God Machine, Gifune’s latest, is out from Macabre Ink. It’s a grim journey through a disturbing world full of darkness and uncertainty. The novel tells the story of Chris Tallo, a former cop turned hotel security guard who becomes obsessed with the suicide of one of the hotel’s guests. Is it the unusual brutality of the young woman’s death that draws him? Or is it that she reminds him of his own daughter, killed five years earlier while serving in Iraq? Or is there some other, more elusive force tying Chris to the girl’s death?
The book does not provide easy answers to these questions, nor does Gifune shrink from examining the heavy toll that grief, loss, pain, and violence take on Tallo’s life. From what I’ve been able to determine over the years, Gifune doesn’t shrink from much of anything. He looks evil in the face, then pulls it close so he can smell its breath. It isn’t pretty, but it makes for a dynamite read, both chilling and thought-provoking.
From the beginning, it’s clear Tallo’s life has been in a downward spiral since his daughter’s death. His career is on the skids, therapy hasn't helped, and his relationship with his wife isn't, understandably, the same. At times, the only thing that seems offer any comfort--other than the bottle--is the unconditional love of the family dog. He discovers the dead woman had been involved with a cult determined to recreate a nineteenth-century ritual to designed bring God--or some other, darker, entity--to earth. Unfortunately, her death did not put an end to their plans.
A lot of the book’s horror comes from Gifune’s knack for tying the known and unknown together in knots. Alone in his home, Tallo knows something is there in the dark watching him but does not know what it is or why it has come. At times, the book feels like a surreal nightmare where levels of (un)reality intertwine and time frames shift unexpectedly. Tallo is an alcoholic who climbs further into the bottle the worse things get; he is, obviously, an unreliable narrator. But it’s more than that: reality itself becomes a contested concept. Drunken dream states are spiked with what may be memories, or hallucinations, or visions. Tallo cannot—and Gifune, thankfully, does not—try to sum up what’s what. In these extreme circumstances, life is mysterious and inexplicable. It’s notable that, in the end, the effort to explain events and shape them into an easily-digested narrative is made by government agents bent on concealing the truth. Beware of easy answers.
That preceding description may make the novel sound like a meandering acid trip. It’s not. Tallo’s subjective experience creates dissonance and layers of uncertainty, but Gifune’s plot keeps rolling full force. I think it’s his ability to dive deep into the unknowable while keeping one foot firmly rooted in his crime-writing experience that makes Gifune such a powerful horror writer: you get the nightmares, but you also get tight plotting and solid action. God Machine certainly does not disappoint in this regard. It all comes to a bang-up climax, complete with a hand-to-hand combat sequence that might make John Skipp himself a bit jealous.
How does it all end? Read it and find out.
The Wonders of Nature and of Providence, Displayed. Compiled from Authentic Sources, Both Ancient and Modern, giving an Account of Various and Strange Phenomena Existing in Nature, of Travels, Adventures, Singular Providences, & c.
Hardbound in full leather.
Here’s something weird you don’t see every day.
I bought this book a couple of years ago as part of one of those wonderful online auctions where someone takes three of four pictures of five or six boxes of books and everyone pretends that they know what they’re bidding on. As is usually the case, the auction turned out to be a mixed bag. There were some fairly valuable books (like a couple of limited edition Arkham House titles) and some that got thrown in the recycling bin (like an old copy of The Blithedale Romance that had been gnawed on—and I mean a lot--by something with teeth bigger than mine).
Then there was this book . . .
Unfortunately, the first few pages are missing, including the title page, which means I don’t have a publication year. It is, however, clearly an early copy of Josiah Priest’s weird classic, The Wonders of Nature and of Providence. The first edition of The Wonders of Nature and Providence came out in 1826 (you can see a digitized copy of it here, courtesy of Google books). I’m guessing, because my copy lacks the plates that were typically in the first edition but is otherwise the same, that this copy is from the second edition of 1833.
Nowadays, the book is primarily remembered as a possible source for The Book of Mormon, specifically portions of the book that speculate on the “Hebrew” origins of Native Americans.
But that’s not what drew me to the book. My interest began with the idea that Priest writes some wild and wacky stuff about “natural” things that we know never really existed. He’s the literary descendent of those fifteenth and sixteenth century travel writers who filled the unknown corners of the world with many strange creatures and inexplicable miracles. This, I thought, will show me some good old-fashioned cryptozoology in its raw form. I figured it for an entertaining read.
Boy was I wrong.
It’s not just that Priest is incredibly long winded, although he is that. Nor is it his nearly unbearable, smug piety, although that certainly does not help. No, what I learned is that Priest is an annoying example of a particularly disconcerting American breed: the self-appointed “expert” really knows very little. He goes on and on citing all sorts of sources for all sorts of “wonders” and much of it is moonshine and hogwash. This may sound amusing and harmless enough, but it isn’t. Among other things, the prolific (and distressingly popular) Mr. Priest wrote Slavery, As It Relates to the Negro (1843), a racist polemic that perverts biblical scholarship to build an argument that God specifically created black people in order to be slaves. His ignorance is neither amusing nor harmless.
Today we live in a world today where many self-appointed experts are more than happy to dispute scientific research about topics as diverse as global climate change and virology. Such people are, like Josiah Priest, often proud of their own ignorance. This is, as Isaac Asimov once pointed out, a unfortunate trend in American culture:
"There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."
Priest is, alas, just an early part of this long, winding thread.