"Torn" Book Review
Written by Lee Thomas
2012, 118 pages, Fiction
Released on March 6th, 2012
A good horror story can give you a healthy dose of blood, violence, monsters and death or leave your insides feeling cold due to some emotionally gritty content that punches you straight in the psyche. Great horror stories can do both. Lee Thomas' Torn belongs to the second group. Thomas, whose 2011 novel The German made my top-ten list and recently received the 2012 Lambda Literary Award (his second), has left behind the abundance of blurbs stating he has what it takes to emerge as an important author; the man is now one of the leading voices in contemporary horror.
Torn begins with Sheriff Bill Cranston leading a search in the woods after the abduction of a little girl in the small town of Luther's Bend. With the help of the townspeople, Cranston combs the forest while fearing the worst. Luckily, they find the girl safe and sound, but they also find something none of them could have ever imagined. Although the child lives, one of the men helping with the search is not so lucky. Instead of a pedophile, there is something out there much more vicious, and Cranston catches a glimpse of its muscular, grey body before it disappears into the darkness. When the sun comes out, a man named Douglas Sykes is arrested while trying to break into a car. They lock him up just like they found him: silent, with a faraway look in his eyes, and naked. When Cranston talks to him, Sykes replies in a singsong voice, almost as if he was reciting poetry. Instead of giving answers, he makes threats, taunts the sheriff about his darkest secret and begs to be shot in the head. If what the man in the cell says is true, Luther Bend has only a few hours left before all hell breaks loose. However, thinking Sykes words are factual is something no sane person would do.
The first thing that makes Torn a superb read is the multiplicity of underlying elements. Their depth adds a lot to the story and makes the narrative almost addicting. The man in the cell is a monster and the town is in danger, but that's just the main premise. Under that, Cranston's marriage is a crumbling mess, his wife is a depressed alcoholic who spends her days in a comatose state and, last but definitely not least, the sheriff lives in constant fear of his double life being exposed. The monster in the cell can see the "monster" inside Cranston, and the mental games he plays are as creepy as they are engrossing.
Another aspect of the book that deserves attention is its balance between psychological horror and gore. While the story begins with a gruesome death, it quickly settles into the realm of emotional dreadfulness. However, when the last third of the book rolls around, the plot explodes into a maelstrom of eviscerated bodies, bullets, screaming victims, fear, gnashing teeth, blood, exploding windows and chaos.
After a few days struggling to find the perfect word to describe Thomas' prose, I finally came up with it: kinetic. The author understands economy of language like very few writers out there. Not a single word is wasted in Torn, turning every sentence into an invisible force that pulls your eyes into the next one. The result is a book that many readers will be tempted to devour in one sitting. This is already happening and the book is selling fast, so the classic "grab a copy right now" applies perfectly. In fact, this review is over: go buy Torn!