Written by: Matthew J. Barbour
Up until his death in 2001, Richard Laymon was at the forefront of the splatterpunk subgenre. His tales were filled with brutal depictions of violence and rape. Laymon went beyond his peers to generate characters -both villains and heroes- that appeared to wallow in unprecedented levels of perversion and sexual deviancy.
Island, written in 1995, is straightforward Laymon. Presented in the epistolary format, Island is a collection of journal entries written by eighteen year old Rupert Conway. Rupert has just become shipwrecked on what appears to be a deserted island. Well, at least, it is supposed to be deserted. Someone has taken to killing the castaways. Whoever it is seems to be targeting the men first and Rupert Conway might be next on the bucket list.
If Rupert is going to die, he is going to go down living out every teenage boy’s fantasy. Surrounding him are a host of beautiful woman including his girlfriend, her two sisters, and her mother. All are dressed scantily for a day at the beach. Rupert thinks of little else besides their bodies, even when he should be thinking of self-preservation.
Our murderous villain has his own ideas for the woman. Unsurprisingly, they are not that much different from those of the teenage Rupert. Depravity will ensue before it is all over.
The story presents a number of twist and turns, both expected and unexpected. This is made more complicated by the fact that Rupert is not only a biased, but unreliable narrator. Still, most of the plot twists are digestible with the exception of the finale which leaves the story fairly open ended.
At over 500 pages in length, Island needs resolution. What the reader is left with is far from satisfactory. In Laymon’s defense, there are subtle hints throughout the narrative which suggest the direction of how things will end, but even with these clues, the conclusion hits hard. Perhaps a little too hard.
Island is often considered one of Laymon’s greatest achievements. It certainly is stereotypical Laymon. It is a great example of what Laymon tends to focus on: sex and gore. Yet, it lacks some the nuances exhibited in some of his other works and much of the social commentary is recycled from earlier novels. Island isn’t bad. It just isn’t groundbreaking. Still for those who love Laymon, it is worth a read.