Sacculina / Behold the Void

I tend to befriend lots of writers. It’s the nature of the business. We do it to network, but we also do it because we generally have a lot in common, which is:

All writers share a love for the written word.

One of the perks of being friends with lots of writers is that you discover other writers the general public hasn’t heard about. We tend to talk about someone new we’ve discovered, one of those “overnight sensations” (who’s been toiling at it for years, but it seems like they exploded onto the literary scene overnight because…well, just because it appears that way).

A few months ago, Philip Fracassi was one of those horror writers that other horror writers were talking about.

Lately, when I hear horror writers gossiping about another, it’s usually about someone’s bad behavior at a convention or their emotional meltdown on social media. So when I heard positive things like, “Have you checked out this guy’s work yet?” or “This book is amazing!!!” (to be fair, they probably only used one exclamation point, but I sometimes have the tendency to exaggerate, so…), my ears tend to perk up and I make an effort to sample the author’s work.

Sorry to say that in many cases, I’m underwhelmed. But in this case…? Nope. Philip Fracassi is as good as they all say.

SACCULINA is a slim, sharp novel about an emotionally withdrawn father, two grown sons (one of whom is fresh out of prison), and the jailbird son’s best friend. The four men have booked a fishing trip in order to reconnect and bond, and although the trip is nearly derailed by an eccentric ship captain and his ominous warnings, the men persevere and get out to sea for . That’s when the trouble starts.

Fracassi fills in lots of history and background on the characters by frequent time jumps, and at first you might think he’s meandering and wondering why he doesn’t get on with the story, but be patient. He’s building something, a multi-layered story with characters you get to know and care about. When the horror begins (and it isn’t that long before it does), you’re invested.

Along with the approaching dread of what’s coming, the author intersperses with poignant reflections on family, sibling rivalry, and the loss of a parent. And then the monsters come. The setting is intentionally claustrophobic, as all the best horror stories are (which is why so many are set in remote or secluded settings). The men are stuck in the middle of the ocean with no way out and a virtual ticking clock on how long they have. The tension builds and you wonder who will survive and how, and I’d be less than honest if I didn’t admit that I thought the author might pull some unbelievable Hollywood-esque rescue, or a deus ex machina. He doesn’t.

BEHOLD THE VOID is a collection of shorts, and generally (just my opinion) I think this where horror writing truly shines. Stephen King’s best work is his short stories (again, my opinion, so save your arguments), and I would be hard pressed to name a full length horror novel that works better than a short story. There’s something about sustaining suspense over a period of time without losing the thread of the story or the tension dissipating that is much easier to pull off in a short, and rarely done well in a full length novel.

Again, my opinion. Put down your torches and pitchforks.

Fracassi offers up nine shorts of varying length in BEHOLD THE VOID that range from psychological horror, to full out “Oh my God, that monster is going to kill us!” type stuff. There isn’t a bad one in the bunch, so I’m forced to pick favorites instead:

“Soft Construction of a Sunset” is the first story and one that gave me nostalgia for THE TWILIGHT ZONE and NIGHT GALLERY shows I used to watch as a kid. The story of a man who receives a frantic call from a friend who has discovered he is in possession of a terrifying power, one that he might not be able to control, in particular, made me think of a collaboration between Richard Matheson and David Cronenberg. It’s that creepy, and ultimately, that horrifying.

“Altar” is similar to his novel SACCULINA, in that Fracassi builds a story around a cast of characters, all with backstories and personal baggage that shape them and flesh them out in your head, and then he drops the horror part of the story on them. It builds like one of those hot summer days that abruptly ends in a violent thunderstorm.

I wouldn’t compare Philip Fracassi to Stephen King as 1) that’s done too much in the horror field; and 2) that’s not giving Fracassi enough credit. If anyone, I would compare his work to Joe Hill. Although his story ideas are based in the standards of the genre, he always has a unique spin on it and never follows the easy, predictable way to the end.

And you can say you read his stuff before he became a household name. —Slade Grayson

Get them at Amazon.

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