"Gone to See the River Man" Book Review
Written by Janine Pipe
Published by Cemetery Dance Publications | Grindhouse Press
Written by Kristopher Triana
2020, 145 pages, Fiction
Released on March 12th, 2020
I will admit to having something of a strong disposition when it comes to disturbing content. Having delved into the extreme works of Bentley Little, Whitley Strieber and Ed Lee, I simply came out the other side somewhat bemused. splatterpunk is my current must-reads sub-genre and seeing people rave about Kristopher Triana’s Gone to See the River Man (2020) piqued immediate curiosity. I noted the cursory trigger warnings for incest and sexual abuse from other reviewers, so do be aware of this. If you are concerned, there is context to any scenes and mentions of this. It isn’t just there to shock, nothing is glorified here. It is abhorrent and portrayed as thus. After all, one of the characters is a convicted rapist/murderer. And this is an extremely horrible story.
The narrative follows Lori, a 40-year-old woman who is the sole caretaker for her older disabled sister, Abby. Through a series of short, sharp and sometimes shocking chapters, we start to learn more about the siblings through present time snapshots as well as flashbacks. As you would expect, things are not all they seem, and you’ll consistently shift opinion over its arc as to who the most deplorable characters actually are.
Lori has made a connection with a repugnant prisoner called Edmund, and the true, sordid nature of their relationship is revealed through a series of letters interspersed throughout the chapters. He takes advantage of the extremely unhealthy obsession she has forged with him by assigning her a seemingly dangerous quest: to retrieve a specific item and deliver it to a mysterious character known only as The River Man.
In order to prove her devotion, she accepts without question and will stop at nothing to complete his request, not even when challenged by her own inner demons and some very real terrors along the way. And all of this before we even encounter the titular River Man. Who exactly is he and why is reaching him so important? The escalating tension and mystery leading to the meeting is rewarded with a truly creepy encounter. I will leave it at that, as the less you know, the better.
Alongside horror, I thoroughly enjoy dark thrillers about serial killers and this short yet concise tale manages to merge them. It is depraved and sinister. Bleak and shocking. It takes many a taboo and consistently puts you front and centre facing some extremely difficult-to-stomach scenarios.
Triana’s narration and dialogue is well-executed and most definitely what I classify as a page turner. The end of each chapter leaves you wanting more and the use of jumping timelines keeps things fresh with each page.
It goes to some astonishing depths (incest, vivid depiction of rape and murder), but these acts of depravity are integral to the plot. It isn’t written solely to glorify certain things or added just for shock value, these are the things that shape the characters and are part of their very core.
Although there’s a genuinely uncomfortable use of racial slurs, it’s a necessary evil, as it demonstrates the inner workings of one of the characters and, given the context, how it shapes the future choices they make. It’s still uncomfortable, but isn’t that what heinous personalities within a narrative are there for?
This was my first outing with Triana and I followed it up with The Thirteenth Koyote pronto. He certainly earns his place in the splatterpunk genre and unlike some very extreme novels, this shocked simply with storytelling, rather than just oodles of over-the-top gore and perversion.
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