I think the less you know about the details of the plot before you read it, the better. It will suffice to say that this is a story about an isolated group of recovering addicts confronting a invasive threat. It’s pulpy, sure, but that’s not a bad thing.
What did I think about it? Good, but with two big sticking points.
What I Liked
Aresty is a screenwriter and I think that comes across in the pacing and the prose of the story. Once the main narrative kicks off, it rockets forward and there are some good and creepy scenes. The descriptions are clean and vivid, the threat clearly defined and rules established. In particular the action scenes and descriptions of the aftermath are well done. There’s a great sense of tension that builds and builds, then bursts in a great way.
If you’re at all versed in horror (particularly movies), there are also several tropes that I think you’ll immediately recognize in the story. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, because sometimes its fun to say “I know where this is going!” and be right. It’s even more fun when you’re lured into the false sense of security and then the rug is pulled out from under you. If you want more examples (preferably after you’ve read it), see the Spoilers below.
The narrator is well-characterized and there are some nice, telling details in the secondary characters. However, some of the details – “foffee” in particular – are a bit . . . ehh. Twee?
It doesn’t help that the continuity of “foffee” is all out of wack. The narrator tells us that “foffee” is what Lilly’s five-year old calls coffee. This is before he learns that she has a five-year old. A few minutes later, Lilly uses the word “foffee” and the narrator has no idea what she means, requiring an explanation. This doesn’t work narratively: 1) because the story is first-person present tense, so this is all backwards; and 2) because what takes one sentence for the narrator to summarize for us then immediately gets a page and a half of “scene” to tell us literally the same thing.
I guess you could chalk it up to an unreliable narrator, given the later reveal, but that would require reading more into the story than I think there is support for.
What I Didn’t Like
That issue of the narrative tense opens the door to discuss the parts of Recovery that didn’t work for me, namely: the epistolary prologue and coda. Not only did these not add to the story, but considering that the main narrative is first-person and present-tense, these asides are stylistically jarring. By choosing to ground the bookends in a factual format (a letter and a newspaper article), there’s no way that all three sections would be available to a hypothetical collector/author.
If you’re in a hurry, here’s the TL;DR version of the next 6 paragraphs – I don’t like the changes in POV. I think the way it’s done here is jarring and the content/style of these bookends detracts from the overall story.
And Then I Rant Some in a Way Very Unrelated to the Book
What does that mean?
First, I see the true narrator of an epistolary story as the “collector-narrator.” Each letter or journal entry, etc. is from a different POV, but there is one unifying (albeit fictional) intelligence that gathers these. By choosing that format, however, the collector-narrator makes everything first-person into third-person.
As I mentioned, this novella is written in a very visual style and comes across as the treatment for a short film (which it would make sense). It makes sense, then, that Aresty would choose to use a first-person, present narration for the center of the action – it’s the most immediate of POVs. That choice, however, means that the endpieces – which switch POV – don’t really gel with the center narrative.
Maybe these disparate elements would work better in a film. But film strikes a different bargain for the audience’s suspension of disbelief. The film’s viewer is the ultimate collector-narrator of what is an epistolary experience. Everything is happening in the present for the limited-third person of the camera, but the viewer’s brain is translating the images into a cohesive story – switching tenses or viewpoints, but always narrated by the brain. In that way, the viewer becomes the final collector-narrator as he or she cobbles together the images. But that’s not the case in written fiction.
In written fiction, the narrator and tense can be narrowly defined. In Recovery, the bulk of the narrative is first-person present but the codas are from different perspectives and there’s no way that they could have been assembled. Here, then, without an explanation as to how either: 1) the first-person narrator has access to these sources, or 2) an explanation as to how an unseen collector-narrator has access to the first-person narrative, I’m left scratching my head.
If it was all third-person, fine. If the first-person had been recorded, fine. But it’s not, it’s just POV shifting without explanation.
Even if you disagree with that rambling and half-baked manifesto (and fair play to you), I think the content and style of these really hurt the overall story.
The very first part of the story is intentionally underwritten because it’s a letter from a child. This opens the story with weaker prose and a very maudlin tone that, thankfully, is at odds with the rest of the story. Also, as soon as the real story kicks-off, we cover the exact same ground, albeit in a way that characterizes the narrator. It’s a big speed bump right out of the gate.
Also, I did not like the ending piece at all. It is literally (yes, literally) the most cliche of cliches. It doesn’t add anything, since it could have been left off to create an ambiguous and resonant ending, but instead its all tied up in too neat a package. One could argue that this is another nod at the classic horror tropes, but if so that’s not clear. Even self-contained, that last part falls down around itself (An hour? Really?), doing nothing to elevate or subvert the trope. Knowingly using a cliche doesn’t make it not a cliche.
Overall, is it worth it? I think $2.99 is pretty steep for a 41-page novella that will take you maybe 30 minutes to read. I think part of the reason behind setting this price point is that royalty rates for Amazon’s e-books become more favorable to the authors and distributors at that $2.99 and above. So yes, it’s more money for the author, but it’s also more money for the reader.
As I mentioned, the plot moves ahead at a fast pace and the prose is crisp, but there isn’t a lot here to unpack or revisit. For that reason, even though I liked it and it is an enjoyable read, I think the price is a bit high.
There’s a lot in here that’s reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Thing, which I take to be knowing nods and homages. First of all is the setting – the snowbound outpost with a motley crew of survivors. Far more explicit is the scene where the narrator comes up with a test for contamination which involves taking a shot of vodka. I immediately recalled MacReady and the crew testing their blood and the result in Recovery is about what you’d expect. Also, the “almost” end with Lilly in the whit room reminded me of the end of The Thing, but Recovery wasn’t done yet, which I appreciated.
I take these callbacks to be fun winks to the genre, especially given the author’s screenwriting background. You could do far worse than nodding at John Carpenter when crafting a siege tale.
That said, I did not like the coda tacked on at the end at all. It turns out, it was Owl Creek Bridge all over again. It’s like Total Recall without the subtlety or nuance.