The Gorge by JL McPherson

The Gorge
By JL McPherson
Spore Press

Nathan has issues. He’s possessed by the spirits of some cannibalistic Native Americans. Although he’s not out eating brains with a side of fava beans and a nice chianti, he is killing his friends and bosses–not that we haven’t all been tempted by angry midget Indian ghosts to go on murderous rampages. Like all good psychopaths, our Nathan is actually a wonderful guy, great father, jilted lover who still carries a flame for the ex-wife, who watched him murder her lover, but as we find out later, *sob* still loves Nathan. Long story short, Nathan bolts into the woods and hides out in the haunted forest, where his short ghost buddies make him kill lots of people. But we’re still supposed to be sympathetic to Nathan at this point, despite the fact he does nothing to fight off these miniature boogeymen (I am slightly exaggerating the size of the Natives).

Makes a decent story, right? It would have, and for the most part, does. I think a little tighter editing would have really amped up the suspense and pulled the story together a bit more. McPherson’s writing style is a little stiff and formulaic, with a lot of ‘telling’ vs. ‘showing,’ but the guy’s got potential. Dialogue is good, believable, and the characterization isn’t too bad. It’s an interesting story–sort of reminds me of the kind of book Dean Koontz would have written way back in the day.

So, overall, I wasn’t too disappointed in The Gorge. One note to the cover artist, one cover artist to another, would be use a stock photo that isn’t as widely used, and to make the title stand out more. The mask effect is awesome, but the title bleeds into the background and makes it hard to read. A very thin stroke or even the barest edge of embossing would have fixed it.

But wait!!

This isn’t just a story about a crazy dude who kills people because of short Indian ghosts! It’s also about a revenge-obsessed Barney Fife impersonator, a crazy snake handling preacher/con man who goes from being a con man to a messiah-wannabe, twu wuv, and explosions! Helicopters! Horses! Hunting and fishing and bounty hunters!

I gave up trying to keep up with the subplots. This book was basically two (occasionally three) separate plots that would have made intriguing books in themselves. Just when one subplot was winding down and Nathan reappeared, another subplot would begin. My advice? Pick one main plot, and then write that story. When the subplots are bigger than the original plot, it’s distracting. As I read, I couldn’t help imagine one of those quizzes you had back in high school when you had a list of things, and had to match them with a list of things on the other side. 1. Crazy guy——> d. possession. 2. Crazy preacher—–> a. Messiah complex. The average guy trying to save his family from a crazy preacher/cult/compound story would have been awesome on it’s own. Instead, it’s watered down and just another series of events in this story.

Then we have a brief episode with a bounty hunter. Totally extraneous, and weighed down the story.

We have a new-identity plot line. Okay…not bad, but…if you’re going to change your names and live somewhere new to avoid the law, you have to actually change your names. And move more than 60 miles from the scene of the crime, because Barney ain’t no fool. *it wasn’t actually Barney, but McPherson didn’t do his character any favors by dedicating a whole paragraph to how much the interim sheriff looks, sounds, and acts like Barney F.

Let me rant on one more thing. Any woman with common sense just isn’t going to go back to the man who killed her lover, killed his boss, killed a handful of other people, just because he says he’s different. Come on, McPherson, give us vagina-owners some credit here! Especially with two young kids in the picture. I’m sure there are some moronic women out there, but Gloria was portrayed as a smart, strong, and capable–not the desperate, need-a-man-so-bad-she’ll-shack-up-with-a-serial-killer chick. Even if there was an extra-plot-element additional statement sort of out of the blue about how she was possessed, and that’s why she cheated, even though she was scooting pre-murderous psycho Nathan out the door wearing an unusually see-through negligee, and the hunting buddy just happened to beg out of the trip. It was a weak attempt to tie everything together with a weak supernatural thread. A new love interest would have even helped tie all the extraneous elements together.

As negative as the review sounds, it really wasn’t all bad. The descriptions of the forest are fantastic and within each plot line, the stories are fairly well-developed, if abbreviated.

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