“A LIFE ON FIRE” (Book Review)

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Originally published at Fangoria.com on April 23, 2011

Chris Bowsman’S A LIFE ON FIRE (Grindhouse Press) is a terrifyingly bleak story about an average man’s building descent into madness. With his job excruciatingly boring, this lonely guy returns to an empty and quiet home. Nothing at his house is waiting for him, only the monsters in his head. The only thing this recluse can do is let the nightmares take control of him and let his insanity run wild.

Uneventful days make Gerald McManner question why he works as a patent clerk. In his uncomfortably usual routine, Gerald listens to his client, Mr. Holman, unsuccessfully attempt to reinvent the wheel. Bored out of his mind, he just wants Holman to go away and disappear from his life forever. His wish eventually comes true when a truck smacks right into Holman, splattering thick blood all over Gerald’s shocked face.

During the night, the unlucky Gerald finds himself talking to Holman’s corpse. This rotting dead body, who happens to be Gerald’s only friend, is not particularly angry at him and doesn’t even want to eat his brains out. Instead, Holman is trying to warn Gerald about something. The upcoming days will bring nothing but terror to the patent clerk, who finally believes he is going completely insane.

In a trancelike state, Gerald finds himself walking to his desk, opening his drawer and slowly taking out his gun. In the backyard, during the late hours, he finds himself shooting at beer bottles. He’s practicing how to fire and reload in order to perfect his aim. His planned killing spree is what he will do one day at the office.

During his practice, Gerald finds himself wandering into an endless forest. When he suddenly hears a horrible shriek, he abruptly drops his gun. In the distance is a small house burning from top to bottom. Dancing in front of the fire are hideous cannibals whirling around. Their heads are shaped like sawed-off alligator snouts and their bodies are covered with stubby black tentacles. These creatures are responsible for Gerald’s nightmares, but are they real or figments of his haunted imagination?

Author Bowsman cleverly puts readers inside the mind of an insane man. Using a few narrative techniques, flashbacks within flashbacks, Bowsman keeps the plot quickly moving. The storyline revolves around a lonely but troubled man trying to put his life back together. At his best, Bowsman’s writing style is able to convey the forlorn emotions from his tortured protagonist.

Bowsman also offers a hidden subplot, a murder mystery behind Gerald’s hysteria. Is Gerald somewhat responsible for his wife’s death? If he did kill her, is he suffering from hallucinations because of the murder he committed? Bowsman never gives a definite answer, just well-placed clues to what happened. The author allows readers to make up their own minds as he never concludes the mystery.

A LIFE ON FIRE slowly builds the menace around its twisted-minded protagonist. The book manages to be an absorbing and heartbreaking read, even though the pages are quite short. A worthy piece of dark fiction, A LIFE ON FIRE arrives in stores May 2, or you can order it from the official Grindhouse Press website here.