"Hero" Book Review
Written by Wrath James White and J.F. Gonzalez
2012, 164 pages, Fiction
Released on March 21st, 2012
Wrath James White and J.F. Gonzalez are both very well known to horror readers because they consistently put out great books. Knowing that, it comes as no surprise that when these two paired up to create something, the result was smart, top-notch horror fiction. Hero is a multilayered narrative that brings the tension and gore you would expect from White and Gonzalez and mixes it with a profound exploration of identity and race.
In Hero, Adelle Smith is an elderly woman who has spent her life fighting for civil rights and egalitarianism. A militant, unbreakable fighter for the causes she thinks deserve her attention, Adelle spent the '60s and '70s out on the streets making things happen and, even in her old age, keeps attending marches, giving speeches, and trying to ensure that every black person she knows has an equal chance at success. Her indefatigable efforts have earned her the Lifetime Achievement Award from the NAACP, but that same night a stroke leaves her partially paralyzed and unable to speak. After the major scare, she is sent back home to finish recovering and start physical therapy. Unluckily for the elderly woman, she ends up at the mercy of a vicious, ruthless hospice nurse with deep-rooted identity issues and the racial discourse of a neo-Nazi. The child of interracial parents, the nurse, Natsinet, decides to give Adelle a special brand of physical therapy. What follows is a marathon of physical and emotional cruelty and torture. After a lifetime being everyone's hero, Adelle suddenly finds herself in need of a rescuer, but Natsinet makes sure she can't ask for help.
The first thing that makes Hero a must-read is the incredible feeling of desperation it transmits. Half of Adelle's body is paralyzed, she can't talk, and her strength is not enough to fight Natsinet. The woman is trapped in her bed and the person who's supposed to be her caregiver is a demented torturer who quickly becomes a psychopathic killer. As the nurse starts tormenting her patient, the tension builds until it reaches an explosive finale. I know some will gasp at the comparison, but this narrative rivals the sense of anxiety, fear, and hopelessness found in Stephen King's Misery.
A second element that makes this White/Gonzalez collaboration required reading for fans of the genre is the underlying psychological exploration of identity and racial prejudice. Race and bloodshed have always been a part of Wrath James White's fiction, but here they take center stage and work as the driving force behind Natsinet's hatred. The authors shine a light on the ugliness of racial discrimination and the lengths to which some folks will go to deny their roots. When combined with the violence and gore, the racial aspect of the story makes it a smart read and, unfortunately, very real.
Sometimes horror is all about monsters, demons or zombies, but Hero proves once again that some of the best scary stories come from authors that decided to scrutinize the worst beasts of all: humans.