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Tom Piccirilli ‘November Mourns’ Review


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Written by: James Keen

“It was distressing to learn that you couldn’t make your way through the world without somebody dead to show you the way.” -‘November Mourns’.

Shad Jenkins -the principle character in Tom Piccirrelli’s ‘November Mourns’- is a twenty two year old inmate at an unspecified prison, serving a near-two year term for serious assault. An evidently tormented individual distressed by nightly visions of his recently deceased younger sister, Megan. Incarcerated and full of suspicion regarding the dubious nature of her passing, he observes at one point, “sometimes the depth of night hid you from your fears, and sometimes it brought them right to your bed.” Upon his release Shad sets about determining the circumstances of his sister’s untimely death, returning to the community of  ‘Moon Run Hollow’, a town where “Fathers passed the tired tales to their sons and grandsons the way they bestowed their pot bellies, sour mash stills, and empty wallets.”

Shad’s return to his ‘roots’ proves to be a bitter-sweet affair, with him attempting -and failing- to reintegrate while promising himself that it’s to be a short-lived affair. His time served in prison has underscored a long held desire to break free of his connection to the town, “…how elated he’d been to get out of the hollow, even if it was only into the slam.” His jail-time has been used to educate himself, repurpose his life and hopefully escape the bonds of a place that holds the manufacture of, and trade in, moonshine to be the summit of one’s aspirations,  Shad grimly realizing that otherwise, “you lived stupid and died ridiculous.” His admirable goal, is of course, sidetracked by his need to unravel the mystery of his sister who at the age of seventeen has perished due to heart failure, discovered on the legendarily ominous road near the town limits known as ‘Gospel Trail’. A trail with a nightmarish history.

It’s a relatively unaffected narrative setup at face value but Piccirrelli’s use of  Southern Gothic tropes ensures that the reader is constantly challenged when it comes to interpreting the multiple levels of meaning the author suggests. Shad suffers from what he terms, ‘blood dreams’ and has the unenviable ability to see the dead…or does he? From the outset Piccirrelli’s paints a portrait of a ‘hero’ whose reliability as the voice of reason and sanity is constantly called into question and by the time the reader decodes the implicit significance of his tale it’s far too late to contemplate not finishing it.

Piccirrilli’s use of metaphor and symbolism here can be somewhat heavy-handed, even tedious at times, with a small section in the text addressing these very ideas that verges on the overly emphatic. It’s as if the author doesn’t trust his reader sufficiently to grasp the layers of meaning he’s disseminating and in so doing belabours the overall narrative conceit. Disturbing in it’s subtext and in it’s delineation of a hellishly apathetic municipality fuelled primarily by life-destroying liquor and inbred couplings, manifesting “nothing but poison” this is a novel that while it has it’s attendant horrors, they are of the more repulsive rather than the terrifying variety and the novels’ conclusion is powerfully resonant and -appropriately enough- a sobering one.

The author’s use of language is a joy to read and he keeps a tight rein on a plot that thunders along with a tremendous momentum with remarkably little that might be considered extraneous or lazily conceived. His characters are exceedingly well drawn and memorable and his fictional geographical setting -at first deceptively simple in its arrangement- is sharply defined and intentionally redolent of the ‘backwoods’ town cliché we’ve witnessed before in various artistic forms whether it be literature, movies or television. Atmospheric, disquieting, heartbreaking and hauntingly beautiful, a ‘quiet’ horror novel you’re unlikely to forget..

Snag your copy right here!

Rating: 4/5

 

About The Overseer (1669 Articles)
Author of Say No to Drugs, writer for Blumhouse, Dread Central, Horror Novel Reviews and Addicted to Horror Movies.

4 Comments on Tom Piccirilli ‘November Mourns’ Review

  1. Wayne C. Rogers // March 23, 2013 at 7:57 pm // Reply

    James,
    Great review. I have the paperback of November Mourns up on my bookshelf, but haven’t read it as of yet. It’s autographed, and I’m afraid of damaging the damn thing. I love Tom’s writing. I think, however, that The Cold Spot and The Coldest Mile are his two best non-horror novels. Before he stopped writing a year ago, due to his illness, I tried to talk him into doing a third “Cold” novel. He kept telling me that it was in the pipeline of books to write in the near furture. I often feel that when Tom writes about the horror of humanity, he hits the nail on the head because what man does to his fellow breathen is far worse than any supernatural horror I could read about.

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    • James Keen // March 23, 2013 at 9:53 pm // Reply

      Thank you very much, Wayne.
      I’ve not read any of his other works, but this really blew me away. It’s rare to read novels that linger in your thoughts, that challenge and differentiate from your expectations, that aren’t flat-out derivative and meant only to be read once and thrown away. I feel if you’re going to say something, express yourself creatively and take the time to do that then at the very least you should be earnest and resolute in your intent to attempt to say something new. Based on what you’ve said, I’ll definitely be checking out more of this author’s work.
      I wasn’t aware that Piccirelli was ill but I hope he recovers soon because from what you’ve observed about the human condition, and seen that concept filtered through his work, it’s important that that particular idea is explored and it’s vital that it’s explored and defined by writers such as him, blessed as he is with such a rare gift to communicate eloquently and comment so disparagingly on the ‘human condition’.
      That said, I’ve only read one of his books but it struck me that the reason this work was so haunting and emotionally resonant was due to the character constantly being reminded of his decisions; he was repeatedly given choices as to how he might act. Shad had free will and opportunities to take multiple different paths. He’s a character burdened by both guilt and duty in its many different forms but he also had that other peculiarly human expectation;hope.

      Like

  2. Wayne C. Rogers // March 23, 2013 at 11:09 pm // Reply

    “And, as we know, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” The Shawshank Redemption

    Like

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