"A God in the Shed" Book Review
Written by Shane D. Keene
Published by Inkshares
Written by J-F Dubeau
2017, 450 pages, Fiction
Released on June 13th, 2017
When we think of traditional horror, certain names come to mind as inevitably as the sun is sure to set on any given day. And while no author, especially a young one, wants to or even should be compared to those that have come before, they serve as a good compass when you’re trying to define a given work. Barker, Straub, and others of their ilk evoke an instant understanding of the reading experience we’re about to undertake, and—like it or not—they’re not apt to fall out of use any time soon. The monikers might evolve over time as the young and new become the defining forces of the next generation, but the convention will remain in place for as long as the literature of the dark exists. But some young authors beginning to surface today defy such easy categorization, being both traditional and groundbreaking simultaneously. The stories and novels of Stephen Graham Jones are one very fine example of what I mean. Laird Barron and Paul Tremblay also come to mind. Another one it can be said of, one that came out of left field and totally blindsided me, is debut horror novelist J-F Dubeau.
A God in the Shed is a story about the small Canadian village of Saint-Ferdinand, a place with a dark and troubled history and an even darker horror that still dwells somewhere within its borders. Venus McKenzie, our protagonist, is a city girl trying to navigate her way through the ins and outs of small town life while dealing with parents who practice what they call a “hands off” approach to parenting which, when translated, means they don’t really do much parenting at all and she’s allowed to do anything she pleases and go wherever she wants. When tragedy strikes, she suddenly finds herself hosting her best friend Penny as a houseguest. And it isn’t long before she discovers that she’s also harboring something considerably darker and more malevolent.
One of the first signs that a book is on track to be a good, if not great, read is solid pacing. If it moves you naturally through the story and keeps you turning pages, it’s made a positive step in the right direction, and in J-F Dubeau’s case, it’s a gigantic leap. Using short, quick chapters, flowing prose, and concise language, A God in the Shed fairly shrieks along at breathtaking speeds and wastes no time hooking the reader and becoming almost impossible to put down. It’s an emotionally charged, literary thrill ride that sets a mood of creeping trepidation from the first words of the prologue and continues to build it steadily and masterfully toward a tempestuous and passionate showdown between good and evil, two forces whose lines are often blurred throughout the story as good guys become bad guys and vice versa, and maybe nobody is exactly who or what they seem to be.
Dubeau’s ability to build a sense of mystery and suspense is equal to that of authors at the top of the horror food chain, and he cements his status as a wordsmith to be reckoned with from the very beginning of the book, writing with a confidence born not of arrogance, but of great and finely polished talent. His ability to develop sympathetic, believable characters is second to none, drawing us into their lives and thoughts and leaving us with no choice but to feel deeply for them, caring and rooting for the ones we love and intensely despising the ones we hate. In a series of chapters told through the eyes of individual characters, we meet Sheriff Stephen Crowley, an enigmatic, single minded man with a strong devotion to his son Daniel and anger issues that are more than slightly out of control sometimes. Then there’s Venus, a misplaced teenager who comes face to face with the most extreme darkness imaginable and must somehow navigate her way through this bleak, mysterious, and intensely terrifying tale of magic, necromancy, and a godlike entity with demonic powers beyond the scope of human reckoning. There really is a god in the shed, and it wants out. Desperately.
When it comes to literary darkness, it doesn’t get much darker or bleaker than A God in the Shed, and it doesn’t get much better, either. My initial, instinctive, and totally unprofessional response once I put this book down was, “Wow, just f***ing wow. Delivering a chilling tale that is, from the very first chapter, viscerally disturbing and relentlessly terrifying, J-F Dubeau mines the stuff of nightmares and plasters it across the page, playing on some of our deepest-seated fears and cranking them up tenfold in the process. I’ve seen it compared to other works, both of film and fiction, and while those comparisons aren’t necessarily invalid, none of them comes close to the reality, which is that J-F Dubeau has created something that is uniquely his, demonstrating to us that, even in traditional horror, there are still new and exceptional discoveries to be made, maybe none so horrific and wonderful as this grim tome from a young author playing at the top of his game. If you add only one new author to your lexicon this year, J-F Dubeau is the one I’d recommend. Emphatically, even.