Sunday, November 20, 2011
BOOK REIVEW:SINEATER by Elizabeth Massie
I picked this up because it was on the Horror Writers' Association list of horror must-reads. I have always been a pro-horror film voice, but was never attracted to reading horror novels. Movies are over in 90 minutes. Novels takes hours and hours. And I also had the not-uncommon prejudice against the genre, or at least against anything written much later than the turn of the 20th century.
But I liked Sineater. I guess it's a horror novel, although I wondered if Massie's publisher didn't promote it as a genre book so it would not get lost in mid-list literary fiction. It's really a pretty good coming-of-age story set in a grotesque situation. If there is such a thing as the Hillbilly Anti-Defamation League, I am sure this book is on its radar. One lesson I took away from it was to fill up the car with gas before driving through Virginia and don't make any stops. These people are crazy.
Sineaters, a tradition that made it to the states from Scotland and Wales, are outsiders, shunned by the community but necessary to its functioning. They appear at wakes and eat a light meal prepared for them by the grieving family and placed on the corpse of the recently deceased loved one. The meal is the sins of the one who has passed on, and by consuming it the sineater assures their soul will go to heaven. No one must ever look on his face.
Avery Barker is an unusual sineater. He is married to the woman he loved before he took up his profession, and although even she must never look on his face, that have managed to have three children. Joel Avery, the youngest son, is the central character, the first Avery allowed to attend school. His only friend was the son of the liberal Methodist minister who has recently moved his family to a parish outside Washington, D.C. Joel's potential new friend is a very different sort of person. Burke Campbell is a skinny, angry redhead sent to live with his religious nut aunt after her daughter has gone missing. Burke's friendly overtures to Joel involve shooting him the finger every time he sees him in the halls at school.
Sineeater is not the gorefest I assumed contemporary horror novels to be. The story is long and leisurely Southern Gothic with lots of character development and one moment so repulsive that I made that pledge about never getting out the car in Virginia.
(Below is a sineater currently plying his/her(?) trade in the Baltic states.)