Hemlock Grove

Somewhere in the weird mess that is HEMLOCK GROVE is a germ of a good idea: Two teenagers — one a werewolf, the other a vampire — team up to catch the savage monster preying on the teenage girls in their town.

How anyone could screw up such a simple, yet fun idea as that is beyond me. But debuting author Brian McGreevy, in his effort to reinvent the Gothic horror novel as a tale of modern teen angst (think THE CATCHER IN THE RYE if it were written by Anne Rice — on second thought, don’t), serves up an overwritten and overstuffed novel that ultimately goes nowhere, with a cast of characters that are, well, characters.

Peter Rumancek is the high school outcast, descended from a family of gypsies and trying to keep out of trouble. For some reason, Peter has no problem telling people he’s a werewolf.

Roman Godfrey is the heir to the Godfrey fortune and local teen aristocrat who dabbles in drugs and casual sex. Roman is also an upir (a Russian term for a vampire who can travel about during daylight).

Shelley Godfrey is Roman’s mute 7.5-feet-tall sister, who walks around with her feet encased in blocks of potting soil. She also glows. (And yes, the author nearly hits us over the head with the comparison by naming her Shelley.)

Essentially, McGreevy is updating the werewolf, vampire and Frankenstein’s monster mythos for a modern audience, but along the way, he loses sight of the clever idea he had at the beginning: two monsters teaming to stop another monster. Instead, he throws just about every Gothic horror staple he can at the reader: witches and witchcraft, second sight, horrible deaths, the rich family ruling over a small town, sinister mad scientists, etc.

Eventually, the reader becomes lost in the morass of plotlines:
• What exactly is Shelley Godfrey, and is she truly alive?
• What is going on at the biotech facility that appears to have carte blanche to do whatever they wish?
• Is Roman’s mother behind any of the grisly deaths, and what exactly is her agenda?

Along the way, we’re struck with several underlying questions:
• Will all of the plotlines be resolved by the novel’s end?
• Or at least, will most of them be resolved?
• Does the burgeoning friendship between Peter and Roman seem believable?
• Will any of the characters achieve a semblance of likability?
• Does it make sense that Roman — a rich and handsome young man with the upir ability to make people do whatever he wants — pays women for sex?
• Is it really that much of a mystery who the killer is, especially since the author practically holds up a flashing neon sign when the character is introduced?
• Do we, the reading public, care who makes it to the end?

Sadly, the answer to these and many other questions raised by HEMLOCK GROVE is “no.”

What could have been a fun and clever horror novel is lost in unresolved plotlines, out-of-character moments orchestrated for either a quick laugh or forced suspense, and near-impenetrable prose:

“The green-eyed boy sat alone in the food court and fingered the needle in his pocket. The syringe was empty and unused, he had no use of the syringe. He had use of the needle. The green-eyed boy, he was called Roman, but what you will have seen first was the eyes, wore a tailored Milanese blazer, one hand in pocket, and blue jeans. He was pale and lean and as handsome as a hatchet, and in egregious style and snobbery a hopeless contrast from the suburban mall food court where he sat and looked in the middle distance and fidgeted the needle in his pocket. And then he saw the girl. The blonde girl at the Twist in pumps and a mini-skirt, leaning in that skirt as though daring her not to, or some taunting mystic withholding revelation. Also, he saw, alone.”

Yes, where McGreevy could have used one sentence to get his point across, he uses five. Also, as you can see, he plays fast and loose with sentence construction and punctuation. If the entire novel was written in that style — a hybrid of Victorian flowery prose and the halting gait of someone who is not native to the English language — then perhaps I could have become accustomed to it.

But McGreevy shifts back and forth between that strange prose-as-verse style and modern usage, so much so that it continues to jar the reader every time he jump-cuts between the two. After a while, I learned to skim along to keep the story moving.

How this book got a publisher — not to mention a TV series deal out of Netflix — is the greatest mystery. The only thing I can think is that McGreevy sold it based on the premise, and once the TV deal was made, the editor in charge of the project took an extended holiday. That’s a shame, really, because an editor could have done something with this: chopped out the superfluous bits, rearranged the Chinese puzzle-box sentences, and forced the author to either resolve his superfluous plotlines or cut them completely.  

I enjoy a good hamburger. This could have been a good hamburger. Instead, it’s a fast-food hamburger buried under a pile of garnish so that it’s unrecognizable … yet the publisher is swearing it’s a steak.

It’s not. —Slade Grayson

Buy it at Amazon.

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Comment by R
2012-06-18 11:11:55

This was the worst hamburger review ever. You barely even mentioned hamburgers.

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Comment by Slade Grayson
2012-06-18 12:13:26

What are you talking about? I mentioned hamburgers 3 times. There’s no pleasing you.

Comment by R
2012-06-18 22:19:26

Yeah, in the very last paragraph, but there were like a dozen introductory paragraphs about monsters or something. Weirdest. Segue. Ever.

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Comment by chris
2013-04-22 01:38:10

I guess I should ask the obvious question. The question being, how much did you pay for the book? I already know the answer to that question so save the three paragraphs you have been saving and perfecting in anticipation of being asked this very question. How dare you tear down someones hard work like you did.You reviewed something you had nothing to do with creatively. Did it make you feel good to completely destroy the authors work. Were you the kid who tore wings off of bugs just to make yourself feel better. Your review was SHAMEFUL.

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Comment by Slade Grayson
2013-04-22 09:40:24

Three paragraphs? You give me too much credit.

Chris, I’m sure you know that publishers send out free copies of books in exchange for (hopefully) honest reviews, just as movie studios arrange free screenings for reviews of their films. Whether I pay for the book or not does not influence my opinion…although I probably would have been slightly more angry if I had wasted my hard-earned cash.

Instead of telling me what a wicked, evil person I am, perhaps you could tell me why you disagree with my review and/or what it was you liked about this book?

Comment by fletch
2013-04-22 19:31:40

Three cheers for making this three paragraphs!

Comment by Rod Lott
2013-04-22 19:24:48

The only thing shameful is how personal you’ve taken it. (Are you related to McGreevy?) The reviewer did not “completely destroy the authors work”; it now lives in a new paperback edition and on a Netflix adaptation. I’d say the work is doing just fine, and even bad publicity results in sales.

By your reasoning, anyone who works hard is deserving of praise just for the effort, regardless of the quality of the result. I strongly disagree with that.

Comment by R
2013-04-23 10:40:08

“You reviewed something you had nothing to do with creatively.”

Gotta love the logic in this. Only the person who writes a book can review that book.

Comment by Cristol Hart
2013-08-09 16:45:59

chris is actually McGreevy…yes, I figured it out per R’s clarification of chris’ logic.

“…even bad publicity results in sales.” – R.L. << This guy is so right!
Due to this thread, Hemlock Grove is now on my list of books to buy.

Comment by R
2013-04-23 10:42:38

Hey, I just realized this is that same Hemlock whatever TV series that I’ve read at least three bad reviews of. Just yesterday the reviewer from TV Guide called it one of the worst series ever. I know TV series and books are completely different entities, but you were way ahead of the curve on this, Slade.

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Comment by Chef
2013-04-26 15:55:56

You poor, bitter fool. It is hard for me to grasp how such a boring, unimaginative individual can be a fan of literature, let alone earn a living critiquing the work of others. The plot “holes” are a tool to keep you engaged in the story, to keep you guessing what could possible happen next. When things are left to the readers imagination the possibilities are infinite. I enjoyed the book and later the Netflix series largely because when I thought I had figured out what was really going on Mcgreevy takes you in another direction. Mr. Grayson may I suggest tsomething a little more your speed?,like the instruction booklet to any piece of ikea furniture? I’m told those are very straight forward with an ending that hopefully won’t leave you guessing too much

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Comment by Slade Grayson
2013-04-29 10:01:48

I may be poor and bitter, but I am not a fool. I would NEVER buy furniture from Ikea.

Comment by Doug
2013-04-27 14:44:40


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Comment by FarkNard
2013-04-28 15:50:41

This whole conversation makes my dong shrivel. The netflix series seems to be good but i still have 2 episodes to go. Could end up sucking. What are books?

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Comment by Mitch
2013-04-28 23:55:30

The series is actually pretty decent but I like this kind of stuff. You have monsters sex and drugs and me personally I hope they make a second season. As forthe book though never read it reading is to boring for be to stay interested in the story.

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Comment by weez
2013-10-03 22:18:44

It becomes obvious early in your misguided attempts at writing, that reading bores you. Perhaps if you read more, you would understand sentence structure, punctuation; perhaps even spelling.

Comment by Mariana
2013-10-28 15:06:29

Thank you weez!

Comment by EveJaneLucille
2013-04-29 07:12:00

I have never seen an argument in the comments of a book review based on telling the reviewer off for giving an honest review! I wonder if the Britain’s Got Talent/Pop Idol-born culture of sycophantic mutual patronising is to blame. This is an opinion – maybe we don’t agree with it, but it is a matter of opinion, even if the opinion is ridiculous, tell him why you think so rather than asserting that he has no right to give his opinion when clearly he does, as do you, if you had one instead of simplistic abuse.

Personally I have been watching the series, I have not and will not, after reading this, pick up the book. I find it somewhat boring, and now I see why – there isn’t a lot to work with in terms of excitement, only thinly veiled, transparent ideas which could have had a lot more done with them. The vampire/werewolf malarkey of late is really not my cup of tea, but I am intrigued by Shelley, what is she? What is up with her eye? etc. etc. That is one aspect I am expecting to enjoy.

There is an atmosphere during the episodes that is keeping me watching, and that is, it seems to be recreating the vibe of Twin Peaks successfully! This is a great accomplishment as Twin Peaks is a masterpiece in television in my opinion. I am picking up a tragic vibe running through the core of most of the characters and inherently, the town.

So there are good parts of the television adaptation. I rarely read fiction, I prefer true stories, and badly written fiction, as is evidenced above, is a nightmare. Unless this series throws in some more intrigue to its pleasant veneer, as soon as the Shelley aspect is resolved I will probably stop watching.

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Comment by Slade Grayson
2013-04-29 15:34:26

“I have never seen an argument in the comments of a book review based on telling the reviewer off for giving an honest review!”

Eve, welcome to Bookgasm.

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Comment by Liv
2013-05-10 09:26:08

Wow. I completely agree with the S. Grayson. I just started watching it on Netflix about a week ago. I kept on watching because it was comical to me… How none of the story lines concluded and well, I would never read the book. But I feel really bad for the actors, because I feel like there was no character development.

It would be so much fun to be a critic! Keep on being honest 🙂 people need to hear the truth.

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Comment by Mattie
2013-06-27 18:15:50

I tried for quite some time to explain this book to my 20 year old son. I should have just read him your review as you said everything I thought but said it better. Nice.

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Comment by JoyB
2013-08-26 20:59:19

This is a case of to each his own. While you were not impressed I took the book and the series for what they were for my taste. I really enjoyed both, you on the other hand did not. Thank goodness for people being different.

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Comment by Marissa
2013-09-01 20:43:54

Does it really matter if there is a bunch of different monster into one story, is pretty fun actually. For so many young actors in one series they are actually doing rather better than others series like this type are doing.. Young Wolf for example. This is not different from True Blood… which last episode really suck. Still I like it, it is a fun twist to the story.

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Comment by Slade Grayson
2013-09-02 19:11:08

I haven’t seen the TV series, Marissa. Hopefully it’s much better than the book.

Comment by nemo
2013-09-10 21:48:30

I have to agree, never heard of the book until Netflix made it a series. Watched the series up to episode 9 or 10 when I stopped. I stopped because the story was going no where, to me there was too many animal(and mythological) references that played no part in reflecting the characters’ thoughts/personality/development or plot. There’s too many characters that are not necessary and the conflicts are unbelievable. Its entertaining to watch to a certain degree but that’s all it is. I wouldn’t read the book or even finish until the 13th episode.

I just showed the first 4 episodes to my aunt and sister and asked, based on the tv show would they read the book. They both said no.

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Comment by Fonzo
2013-10-04 12:33:24

I think some are a little over-critiacal of this show. I find it to be tantalizingly slow, as well as delightfully predictable(to an extent, of course.). Let’s not forget this IS the 1st season of the show, and I think it more understandable that the pace isn’t too high, yet(I’m only on the 8th episode).
It seems to me, that people are a little under-whelemed with the speed of this storyline, and the over-all character development, because they are used to stories where the main character is a Half Fairy, Human hybrid, constantly on the run from Vampires that want to drink her blood to be allowed to walk in the daylight, or, perhaps they prefer the handsome, young, sparkling teen vampire/shirtless teen-wolf variety. If either is the case, it is understandable, that the viewer would be yawning a bit, at how fast(or slow) things appear to be moving along in the Hemlock Grove universe. I, myself, prefer the ravenous, blood-thirsty, humanoid Lycan type of thing, but, with that, it’s a little lore, and a lot of gore, so that’s where I fit in on the Vampire-Werewolf universe scale. However, I do find it’s pace to be enthralling. I love how none of the characters true agendas have been revealed, quite yet, which leaves me as the viewer time to set in to the entire world that they are trying to lay out for us. I believe where other shows put you on the fast track to ramped blood-sucking, and frivolous teenage sexual desire, this show takes you on more of a scenic route. Remember, patience is a virtue, people. It wouldn’t hurt to let THIS writer and THESE producers and executives, build their own world, separate from those we are already familiar with. The world has enough, teen angst-filled, or coming-of-age based Vampire/Werewolf sagas. Let this writer and these producers build a world we aren’t to privy to, (as of yet), into something,(I assume) to be much deeper, and hopefully more elegant than what the last 5-10 years of Vampire/Werewolf/Witchcraft stories have had to offer. Again, I believe this show to be Tantalizingly slow, and deliberately, and delightfully predictable. It’s like a slow dance while your favorite pizza is heating up as the smell of your favorite cheeses and spices fill the room, just before you take that first eye-popping, savory bite. I think we are more in the savory bite portion(before the first eye-popping bite) but, you get the idea.

I would give this story a 7 out of 10 right now, only because it is still building, building a world different from the ones we are used to, and that, I think is a breath of fresh air.

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