"Starr Creek" Book Review
Written by Gabino Iglesias
Published by Lazy Fascist Press
Written by Nathan Carson
2016, 168 pages, Fiction
Released on November 15th, 2016
There’s a new thing going around: comparing books and movies to Stranger Things. You know what? I’m fine with that as long as the comparison makes it clear that whatever is being discussed is its own animal. In the case of Nathan Carson’s Starr Creek, the friends running around the woods and facing something bizarre and dangerous make the aforementioned comparison inevitable. However, given the richness and depth of the novel, it requires a few expansions, clarifications, and addendums. Try this on for size: Starr Creek is like a gonzo version of Stranger Things directed by David Lynch on crank after he went to a biker bar and spent three hours getting high with a redneck who claimed to have been abducted by aliens.
Starr Creek takes place in Oregon in 1986. It was a different time then, but getting high was as popular as ever, and the novella follows a group of friends who are planning to head out in a little excursion into the woods so they can take acid, explore, and enjoy their trip. Meanwhile, a strange man named Puppy (his real name, not a nickname) has some plans of his own: getting revenge against a biker. Before these narratives collides, the novella deals with strange happenings, a dog food eating contest, and the kind of smart, unique weirdness that readers of Lazy Fascist Press books have learned to expect from the books they release.
It took me a few chapters to really get into the rhythm of Star Creek. Carson gives readers a bunch of characters and situations that seem far from each other. I suspected those narrative lines would converge at some point, but wasn’t sure if everything I was reading was necessary. That the author cranks up the weirdness (there are aliens in the mix, along with drugs, flashbacks, violence, underground adventures, high speed chases, and friendship) while managing to bring everything together in a fun, cohesive way is a testament to his storytelling skills, which are even more impressive when you consider that this novella is Carson’s debut.
There are three elements of Starr Creek that merit special attention. The first is that, while most writers of weird literature rely on a surreal/alien/weird world to make their strangeness work, Carson does this very well while having his narrative anchored in a normal world. Sure, there are odd characters and bizarre passages, but the sense of creepy strangeness is more of an atmospheric thing than something pushed to center stage by an alien world. The second element that shines here is the writing itself. There is a passage where a kid runs over an invisible alien and then more or less has a conversation with it and feeds it some “medicine.” The scene is eerie, strangely touching, packed with awe and innocence, and entertaining in the way all alien stories should be. And there are more passages and scenes like that sprinkled throughout the novella. Last but not least, there is a beautiful, somewhat controlled recklessness in action here. It’s obvious that Carson was out to make a statement with his first book, and that he wanted to have a lot of fun while doing it. In fact, the explosive last act of the novella is so packed with crazy and literal explosions that it resembles an alien version of Twin Peaks directed by Michael Bay.
I read Starr Creek on a plane to California, and it stuck with me for a while. There is action and blood in its pages, but there’s also a celebration of nostalgia and being young and a lot of love for the idea that there could be something amazing in the woods, under the lake, or even in our own homes from time to time. Nathan Carson is a household name for those into music, and Starr Creek should do the same for him among those who like their literature strange and engaging.