Sunday, March 09, 2008

FreeBooks #8: Deadolescence by Robert Devereaux

Robert Devereaux's Deadolescence (A Tale of Love and Sacrifice) is a slippery customer. The story is set in the Demented States of America, where violence is a way of life and decent people live in threesomes (so long as the threesomes are mixed-gender; after all, same-sex threesomes are just wrong). To prepare them for the rigors of adulthood, high school seniors undergo a deadly prom night rite of passage: one couple is picked at random to be slaughtered by a designated slasher, chosen from the ranks of the high school faculty. This year, however, something has gone very wrong at Corundum High. And a lot more than one couple's blood is going to be spilled. . . .

At first, everything about Deadolescence seems too blunt. The satire is obvious: the President of the Demented States of America is a literal puppet, for goodness' sake. The violence (and there is a lot of it) is graphic, gory and extreme. So is the sex; there is stuff going on with piercings and zippers that I really don't want to think about any more. Be warned: this book is not for the squeamish.

But once I acclimated to the excess (more or less; the finale takes it up another notch and truly made me squirm), I was able to appreciate the novel's considerable strengths as well. The story as a whole is smartly paced and plotted, with an effective conclusion that thoughtfully, if gruesomely, caps all that came before. There are also tinges of subtlety and humor amidst the novel's extremes, whether in the amusing portrayal of anti-government crusaders or in the more quiet moments of genuine fear, such as when a young girl must hide in a closet while unspeakable things go on outside.

Perhaps the most surprising -- and ultimately telling -- aspect of Deadolescence is how much we come to empathize with, or at least understand, the students, teachers and parents of Corundum High. Violence and the infliction of pain are fundamental parts of life in the Demented States of America. The characters who inhabit that world, naturally enough, largely tolerate (and even endorse) the society in which they have always lived. As a result, they accept and do things that we, as readers in the United States of America, might (and hopefully do) find barbarous. Yet even if we don't always agree with their worldview, we can at least begin to understand it, given the context in which it developed. Despite our profound differences in values, we can even relate a little bit, as we wonder how we would behave if we grew up in their world.

I don't mean to make too much out of Deadolescence. It is, in essence, a slasher film in novel form. But as such things go, it is an especially fine and intelligent slasher film. It is filled with effective gore, real frights, and good characters, is thoughtful enough to have real substance, and is great fun to boot.

As of this writing, Deadolescence is available for free at the author's website. Grab it while you can; Devereaux has promised to try to bring the book to print, either from a traditional publisher or, if necessary, POD. (And I must say, in the event that you don't read this until after the novel is no longer available for free: if you can stomach extreme horror, Deadolesence is well worth paying for). For more graphic violence-and-sex fun, this time set in a world where Santa Claus and fairy tales are real, check out Devereaux's equally extreme Santa Steps Out, published by Leisure Books and available used on Amazon.

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