Jess Peacock of Crawlspace Online writes in with a new book review/spotlight. John Everson’s “Siren” follows the protag Evan who is entranced by the alluring song of the beautiful naked woman he saw in the surf one lonely night. But this is no mere seductress. She is a siren, one of the legendary sea creatures who prey on unsuspecting men. And she has claimed Evan as her next lover. The book is in stores now.
“Siren was a little different for me,” confides John Everson regarding his most recent novel. “I didn’t want to do vampires. I didn’t want to do zombies.” A cursory glance at retail bookshelves over the past several years does indeed bear the burden of tiresome and predictable subject matter. Without the endless variations on undead adventures and flesh eating apocalypse epics, genre choices have proven somewhat anemic.
“I started thinking about what hadn’t already been done a million times before,” Everson continues. “And then I thought of the siren, which has a solid mythological base, and has never really been the subject of a horror novel as a lead character.”
The siren, originating in Greek mythology and popularized in Homer’s Odyssey, were alluring supernatural creatures who led sailors to their death with their seductive and irresistible music. “During my research, I came across an old painting of the sirens laying nude on a pile of human carcasses. I thought that this was a really good basis for a horror novel.”
Everson, who won the Bram Stoker Award for his debut novel Covenant, has always had an attraction to the darker side of the universe. “I was a sci-fi kid, so I watched a lot of Outer Limits and the Twilight Zone. When I started writing, everything I did ended up being short stories with a nasty twist at the end. So I started focusing more and more on horror.”
“Throughout the nineties I published short fiction in all sorts of magazines,” Everson continues. “I love the short form. You can do one in the afternoon and feel a great sense of accomplishment. There’s closure, it’s done, and then I can go watch a movie.” Despite fifteen years of working primarily in short stories, however, Everson made a splash in the publishing world with the previous mentioned Covenant, its sequel Sacrifice, the Argento influenced The 13th (“A result of sitting on my ass and watching Italian horror movies for six months“), and now Siren.
“I think I’m becoming more of a novelist now,” he asserts. “When you’re working on a novel, it’s six months of slogging through. Of course, at the end, you’ve got a novel that could be on shelves for years. I’d have to really work to do a 2,000 word story again.”
Unfortunately, while it benefits from a premise ripe with potential, Everson’s latest work reads like one of his short stories uncomfortably stretched to a 300-page novel. The tale finds itself trapped in a repetitive loop of a man’s erotic midnight encounters on the beach with the Siren, peppered with the standard gory deaths of random, underdeveloped supporting players (both modern and historic).
“Siren also centers on dealing with the loss of a child,” Everson reveals. “This subplot definitely came from being a new father, which makes this book very important to me.” It is through this secondary narrative involving the drowning death of the protagonist’s teenage son where the novel actually shines. The palpable sorrow and guilt from his loss inexorably drags hero Evan into the blackest depths as surely as any wanton Siren. The author’s rendering of a father lost in his pain is brilliant in its emotional agony, a poignant through line that is unfortunately dampened by the ultimate revelation of the truth behind his son’s death.
Despite any weaknesses affiliated with Siren, Everson’s immediate writing future promises to be productive with the March release of his fifth novel, The Pumpkin Man (“The jumping off point for the book is a short story I published in Doorways Magazine several years ago“), as well as continued publishing efforts with his own label, Dark Arts Books. “We’re now on our sixth title,” he shares. “Our whole modus operandi is to put together collections of four authors, usually an established author, a couple of cult status writers, and a newbie. We want to introduce people to other authors.”
“The market for small press stinks,” Everson discloses. “But we’re still breaking even on every title, making people a little bit of money.”
No matter the literary pursuit, Everson plans on remaining firmly within the boundaries of horror. “Horror gets to the root of what it is to be human,” he explains. “We are all driven in a large part by our fears and obsessions. We’ll always have horror stories, we’ll always be wondering if there’s something beyond…unseen. And that’s what the horror genre is all about.”
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