"Commodore" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Strange Aeons
Written by Philip Fracassi
2021, 92 pages, Fiction
Released on 1st November 2021
If you have never sampled Philip Fracassi, his latest novella Commodore is a great place to take a baby step in discovering a terrific author with a wealth of short fiction to explore. There has recently been an explosion of outstanding novellas in the horror world and Fracassi comfortably mixes with the best the genre has to offer. If you’re interested in the American Civil War, Shiloh (2018) provides a fascinating Lovecraftian spin on the famous battle; or, if you’ve a fan of maritime tales, then Sacculina (2017) features a boat trip which the reader quickly gets the sinking feeling the trip is one-way. Fracassi also has two outstanding short story collections, Behold the Void (2017) and the recent Beneath a Pale Sky (2021); both books are littered with memorable tales. Over the last half-decade, few authors have had such an eye-catching run of short fiction as this author and if the quality of his debut novel Boys in the Valley (2021) is anything to go by, he is fast becoming one of the most distinctive voices in the genre and deserves to be read by a much wider audience than he probably is.
Commodore complements the previously mentioned novellas perfectly, beautifully nudging into the realms of coming-of-age fiction. Enticingly for established fans, the story is set in the town of Sabbath, which has also been the location of an earlier short story featured in Beneath a Pale Sky. I was very excited to spot the connection, but for the sake of spoilers I will not reveal where the connection lies. In the endnotes, Fracassi reveals that in the future he intends to return to Sabbath, which is a town where weird stuff happens (and the locals accept as fairly routine) in the same vein as Josh Malerman’s Goblin or the old TV show Eerie, Indiana. It is one of those locations which tourists avoid (they’re not sure why) or if they pitch up there accidentality, leave as quick as possible. Why? Nobody knows for sure, except that it just does not feel right. Fracassi totally nails the feel of that small American town and seamlessly factors in a supernatural twang. This is Stand By Me but with something scarier than a dead body and a smart spin on small-town horror.
Like with a lot of Fracassi’s fiction, I wish this novella was longer and could easily have spent more time in Sabbath, and hope the author is true to his word with future visits. The story is deceptively simple: In this strange little town there is a local legend, somewhere in the local junkyard there is a haunted car which locals believe can disappear and reappear at different locations. The junkyard is huge and sprawling and nobody ever visits it after dark. One day, similar to the kids in Stand By Me (who decide to seek out a dead body), Jim Honeycutt and his friends go looking for the car. It goes without saying that the boys do indeed find the legendary automobile, an old Hudson Commodore, and to reveal any more about their discovery would ruin a plot which tailspins into unexpected directions. Events morph an emotional and sad read, which is perfectly balanced between the supernatural and dark fantasy. As all the characters are aged around fourteen and as it is not particularly violent, Commodore could also be enjoyed by a YA audience, as the teen friendship dynamics are perfectly pitched at that age group.
By way of comparison, lots of books with spooky cars spring to mind, both King’s Christine and From a Buick 8 are obvious examples, as does Joe Hill’s NOS4A2, with Commodore having a sprinkling of all of these beasts as it dances around more than one horror trope. This novella is such a compact story, I could easily envisage it playing out over a thirty-minute Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone-style television episode. The early stages hint at the horrors of what are to come and it gets significantly darker than I anticipated, with Lovecraftian-style monsters also being thrown into the mix. Fracassi has always had a knack of quickly developing relatable characters with ease, and his four teenage boys could have been lifted out of any classic coming-of-age film, being brought to life with verve and the reader quickly tapping into their trials, even if they are of their own making.
Horror fiction is full of towns where nightmares bubble just below the surface, and the seemingly quaint location of Sabbath mixes with the best of them and is ripe for further exploration. Hopefully, Commodore is only an appetizer for what lies ahead and the novella should please existing fans and is a nice introduction to his fiction for those yet to discover this author.
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