Magic, monsters, and minor gods are all just part of a day’s work at the Reality Defense Agency. What’s new is Tillie being stalked in her dreams. Now she faces something a bit bigger than a chupacabra or a drunken leprechaun, and it wants her dead.
Tillie Madison vs Reality is debut author PL Winn’s first foray into the horror fiction industry. With a quirky, animated cover, one expects to read an eccentric novel about the titular character’s witty quips. Unfortunately this is not the case. Winn’s debut could have been a magnum opus of sorts, if it weren’t for the heavy-handed editing, the laborious set pieces, and the incessant use of adjectives and adverbs. Winn should have killed 90% of his darlings before publication. Not only is the novel littered with verbose run-on sentences, but it’s also corrupted by the usual suspects, i.e. “a few”, “very”, “a bit”. The irksome repetition also doesn’t bode well for the technical aspects of Tillie Madison vs Reality.
Should Winn’s debut be damned by inexperience? No. The plot is exciting, riveting and powerful. Admittedly, the novel does have a cliched opening – “I died last Monday. It hurt. A lot.” – but it makes up for it later in the plot.
Characterization is exquisite. Tillie’s partner, Donovan MacDonnell, is an ancient vampire-esque human who is described as permanently youthful. He is also religious, which, if Winn played with the plot some more, could have led to a strong layered narrative. Being in Tillie’s mind all the time does help the plot to some degree and although Winn attempted to play the “religion” card more than once, it came across as forced instead.
Despite the novel’s unfortunate lack of experienced technicality, it still manages to enthrall the reader with sardonic wit and laugh-out-loud descriptions, e.g. MacDonell’s vegetarianism. Winn’s secret lies in his off-kilter duality, always walking the line between horror and comedy. And this is where the novel shines, during those rare moments of visceral characterization.
The denouement leaves much to be desired. Winn forced the climax, overplayed the timing and rushed into a questionable epilogue. I am unsure whether the writer is planning a series. Perhaps, in future, if there is indeed a sequel to Tillie Madison vs Reality, Winn could attempt to answer some of the odd questions at the end of this novel’s unravelled epilogue.
I am certain that Winn could redeem himself with a sequel. Editing and inexperience caused his ultimate downfall.