Buy It for the Cover, Stay for the Explosive Story

Author: Andrew Van Wey

I picked up Head Like a Hole because I loved the cover. Usually, the adage of “don’t judge a book by its cover” is a dire warning: the wrapping doesn’t indicate the quality of the present. But in this case, it really did. Head Like a Hole was a weird, wonderful, gruesome story that expertly combined horror and mystery, with just a little bit of sci-fi, into the perfect mélange of edge-of-your-seat Lovecraftian insanity.

The story is difficult to describe (thus the terrible online synopsis). It’s part vengeance story, part body-horror, part nostalgia, and part crazed government agent science experiment. See – not easy to quantify.

It begins when a loan fisherman brings in a human head. Just as he’s trying to decide if he should throw the thing back (he doesn’t fancy letting the police know that he’s fishing off season), it opens its eyes and talks to him. A parasitical love affair begins. But this head has plans beyond survival. She’s seeking something, going back to the summer of 1996, looking up old friends one by one. Which leaves us to ask: just what happened that summer? Is this undead monstrosity really the victim, somehow imbued with immortality in order to work the perfect revenge, or is something else going on here?

As the head works to . . . get ahead (I couldn’t resist), we meet up with a member of the old gang: Megan. Megan doesn’t remember much about that summer, other than that her parents died in a house fire. She didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye, because at the time she was in a coma, fighting for her life after a drunk driving incident. When she regained consciousness, she found that she’d lost everything. Her boyfriend distanced himself from the trauma, and her close group of friends faded away. But now, Megan’s remembering things and having dreams. When she seeks out her old crowd, she finds out that they’re having dreams too. And that’s when things start to get freaky.

Head Like a Hole is a layered story that is also bookended by a greedy narrator. There are a lot of time transitions going on here, a lot of things happening, and a lot of people speaking. It’s a dangerous play, but one that author Andrew Van Wey expertly adapts. He uses all these voices to keep the mystery alive, giving us bits and pieces at a time, leading us with questions and half answers. No one here can be trusted, yet everyone is somehow empathetic, right up until the last bloody truth is unveiled. And what a truth that is!

If I wrote it out in outline form, you’d huff, say “how ridiculous, that’s too much,” and walk away. But dear reader, it’s not too much! It’s a genius maelstrom of monstrosity tied with the perfect bow of complex interactions, pure emotions, and a gut-wrenching desire for retribution. It’s equal parts horrifying and oh-so-satisfyingly good. And . . . you’ll never look at a starfish, or a stranger with a notepad, quite the same way.

I can’t really believe that this all worked, especially when we got the soviet agent joining the tale, but it came together perfectly and created a tale that a dark Goldilocks would call “just right.” By it for the cover, read it for the story.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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