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.