Title: One Bloody Thing After Another
Author: Joey Comeau (A)
I really wish this book could pick what it wanted to be when it grew up.
Backstory- I found One Bloody Thing in a little bookshop in Portsmouth. It was on the ’employees suggested’ wall, because in a smaller bookstore you can do that. The woman I bought it from, who was apparently the person who had suggested the book, told me that it was one of the best things she had read in a long while.
…well it could have been, I guess.
One Blood Thing After Another is written in a style I adore- the shorter chapter/viginette. Instead of a cohesive story with a series of events set up chronologically, One Bloody Thing follows several characters whose paths intersect. There are four characters: Jackie, a middle school student, her classmate Ann and Ann’s sister Margaret, and an older man named Charlie, who goes on walks with his old dog Mitchie. Weird Shit is happening to everyone involved; let’s start with the sisters. Their mother has recently developed a taste for very raw meat.
The werewolf story is an old one and rewriting it in a fresh way is a challenge. I applaude Comeau’s handling of language; though you are made aware early on that there’s something off about the girls’ mother, you won’t find a single blatant reference to wolves and moons. It’s a nice, subtle transformation into a bloodthirsty monster, and no fur has to be involved.
Jackie and Charlie are a little more complicated. Their Weird Shit involves ghosts. Jackie, when she whispers ‘mom’, becomes invisible to all who look at her- but then she has to deal with her mother’s vomitting ghost. Charlie walks his old dog Mitchie and is plagued by the image of a woman with a severed head, who leads him to the same apartment every day and points at the increasingly irate tenant.
How do these stories link up?
…yeah I didn’t get it either.
One Bloody Thing can’t decide what it wants to be. It has elements of horror but doesn’t follow a traditional horror format. It could be argued as a ghost story but again, there are werewolves. Is it a parable for relationships? It could be, but at one hundred and sixty five pages there isn’t enough room to find out.
The book is chock full of good stuff. Jackie’s relationship with her father and dead mother, for one. If I could root for anyone, it would be Jackie. All she wants out of life is to go on one good date with Ann, who she is madly in love with- as madly in love as a middle schooler could be. Ann, however, is distracted- mostly by that werewolf problem. To make a long story short, there is murder and stealing of babies involved.There’s a dangerous amusement park with old wooden rides, teacher crushes, guilt..and yet nothing seems to really connect.
Charlie’s story, for example, wouldn’t be a part of the girls’ except that they steal Mitchie to feed their mom. Understandably, this depresses him. Since Charlie’s daughter is convinced that the headless ghost wants revenge on the woman in the apartment, he goes to kill her.
Then he gets killed and eaten by the now all werewolf family.
Meanwhile, Jackie, who is halluicinating her mother, gets hit by a car.
I feel like this book could have easily been a couple hundred pages. As a writer of shorter works myself I can understand the temptation to leave everything vague and open ended, but in a story as charged as this one I am left feeling bewildered and a little put out by the abrupt end. It feels like Comeau wrote himself into a corner, a little like Shakespeare with Hamlet.
“Will, the play’s excellent, but how does he get back from England?”
“I don’t know! I’ve been going in circles about it for two weeks!”
“…what about pirates?”
“Yeah, they pick him up and bring him home.”
“Don’t be daft, Sam, pirates aren’t coaches.”
“Well why can’t they be?”
“…a good question..”
Only instead of pirates, it’s the old Everyone Dies curtain drop. There’s even someone left alive to tell the story- Jackie, who is having her own personal fun time with her Dad wrecking waiting rooms in hospitals.
There should have been a bigger cast of characters here. Each ghost should have been given more time, both when they were alive and when they were dead. The headless ghost was almost entirely superfluous, existing only to get Charlie to the apartment where he was destined to be devoured. She deserves more than that. Jackie’s mom deserves more than that. Ghosts are there for two things. The first is to provide the creepy factor. The second is to act as bridges between the symbols and ideas of the book. They themselves should be characters on par with the protagonists. Instead, both women were treated like creepy background noise.
What about the Mom? what about Mitchie? They almost make the cut, but their smaller roles in general mean they fade out once their job is complete. And even if you’re writing vignette style, you cannot have a wolfpack made up of entirely female wolves without Mom.
I would love to recommend One Bloody Thing After Another, but I just can’t. The book isn’t done. Maybe according to the publishers and even the author it is, but right now I’m looking at an entertaining second draft with no idea where it is headed.