On the Night the Hogs Ate Willie…
The Redemption of
Author Jason Sizemore
by Geoffrey Girard
Skip this. Really.
If, for some reason, this introduction is performing some role in your decision on whether to buy the book or not, then: BUY THIS BOOK. The eighteen stories within this collection deliver everything that good speculative fiction should. They fuse the extraordinary and the ordinary in ways both magical and dreadful; vile and hysterical; challenging and comforting. These are stories that will make you think about things you maybe didn’t want to think about, and also the things we must.
For those who’ve already purchased the book, just get straight to the stories. Go. If you want to talk about them afterward — which you will — come back.
Jason Sizemore has been a champion of dark speculative fiction going on two decades now. As founder, owner, and publisher of Apex Publications, he has directly discovered and fostered some of the brightest new stars in the genre and also published some of our biggest and most respected superstars, wooing them with his remarkable passion, vision, and personal integrity. Approaching fifty books published, more than sixty issues of Apex Magazine — work nominated for Stokers and Hugos and Nebulas — Jason stands today as one of, if not THE, most respected independent publishers in the country. A man budding publishers and seasoned artists now come to for advice. A man who has sacrificed his time, savings, and (occasionally) sanity, to bring the very best dark fiction to tens of thousands readers.
What a dumbass…
Sorry, but the thing of it is, when Jason is focused on being one of this generation’s best publishers, he isn’t writing. And, well, that’s just not cool. Hopefully, you took the advice and just now read the stories. The guy can write. The reason he’s such a damn good publisher, editor, mentor, and industry visionary is because at his core, he’s a horror writer. This man knows the value and meaning of… well, blood.
So to hell with Jason Sizemore the publisher. Let’s forget about that today and maybe even, let’s hope, longer. This is about Jason Sizemore, the author, and Irredeemable is a very fine opportunity for us to discover what that means and could mean for decades to come.
It maybe oversimplifies to place Jason in some “Southern Gothic tradition,” but it’s a pretty good place to start.
A] The guy’s a literal hillbilly: born to a coalminer father, spent the first eighteen years of his life in some Appalachian hole of four hundred people in Kentucky. Jason knows southern ways, southern people. The tobacco juice trickles warm and pungent in these pages, the dialogue is as true and enchanting as anything Faulkner or O’Connor were bringing to the party. In the last fifty years, Southern Gothic has mostly moved from the decaying plantations into the back roads, forgotten one-store towns and the darkest hollers this side of Big Creek, Kentucky. This is Jason’s foundation and, not surprisingly, where most of his stories are told. Even when those infamous “Sizemore aliens” are running about, and keeping us humans all on our toes, both sides are navigating the strange and chilling and magnificent (“knees popping like a BB gun”) backwoods of Kentucky together.
B] The gothic, apparently, Jason got from his mother. Suckled on blood and brain and quivering entrails. They’d watch horror movies together when he was a boy. Anything, everything, she could find. Raising a true aficionado of the gross and violent, revolting, hilarious, terrifying. A man who would learn to see the world in simple black and white and crimson. Visualize within these very pages Caspar’s golden crucifix, or cages filled with puppies and “dirty road strays,” or a spine furrowed in large silver rings and a “shaker of salt and a metal pick.” Evokes the earlier works of Clive Barker. Or Dante.
Combining the setting and the weird, Southern Gothic offers us macabre characters and circumstances to explore/reveal the cultural character of the South. Dark speculative fiction, in most cases, does the same wherever it’s set. But there is, of course, something inimitable about the South, something artists like Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers, Anne Rice, Cormac McCarthy, and Poppy Z. Brite have captured for years. Something Jason Sizemore is capturing even now. Southern novelist Pat Conroy has described textbook Southern fiction as: “On the night the hogs ate Willie, Mama died when she heard what Daddy did to Sister.” Or, less drolly, what McCullers described as “the tragic with the humorous, the immense with the trivial, the sacred with the bawdy.”
Sizemore’s characters are mostly ordinary people with mostly ordinary problems: lame jobs, empty bank accounts, lonely hearts, waiting for a mother to die… The demon prancing at the end of her bed, the aliens thumping drums in the distance, the vengeful ghost with a spoonful of fresh ice cream, these are the just consequences to the original human frailties and struggles.
“The Sleeping Quartet” is a perfect example of this specific permutation. (And, if I may, now one of my favorite horror tales by anywriter.) Because it mingles an eccentric but very real/honest character with a night of horrors too challenging to ever forget. Whether Jack Taylor is dancing naked about his new room, sneaking off his wedding ring, or first dealing with his Vaderesque sleep apnea mask, the reader cannot help but later feel every single shiver and agony as quirky human Jack in due course meets the darkness, the supernatural, the world of blood.
And what is the point of all of this? What exactly is this modern Southern author telling us about the world beyond the scabby coon dogs, hellish spaceships and spurting blood?
Just before writing this intro, I emailed Jason and claimed/threatened: “I got you figured out, pal.”
He replied: “Oh, that the world is filled with bastards?”
But you’ve read the stories now too, haven’t you? So you know that Jason’s response left out the biggest piece of his world-view puzzle: The world IS filled with bastards, yes, and one day soon every single one of them fuckers is gonna pay.
Jason’s characters don’t live in some existential universe where there is no value, meaning, or moral structure. There ain’t no Lovecraft, Kafka, Burgess, Vonnegut, or Palahniuk brand of grotesque here. The monstrous creations of Jason’s fiction serve a definite purpose: retribution.
In almost every single story, there is an unseen “Boss,” “Agency,” “Mayor,” or “God” delivering sentence from afar… or (hee hee) from very, very close. His male characters, in particular, are all guilty of some moral crime; some very small offenses, some not so small. Imagine Alton McNeil getting on that elevator in City Hall, little Mason Wayne and his brother in “Pranks,” or poor Jack Taylor preparing for his special night in the “The Sleeping Quartet”. These aren’t “bad” guys by most standards, maybe just a little weak is all. Just a little crude, maybe, just a little faithless. Stories in which men lie or stray or surrender; stories where men “are human.” Jason’s universe has something coming for each one of them. And as to those men with greater offenses, men like bad daddy Torrence Giles on Christmas morning or old man Metty Crawford out in the woods, Jason’s universe has something for them too.
The title of this collection may be Irredeemable, but that is not the feeling the collection will leave you with. While many/most of the souls in the collection are, in fact, irredeemable, Jason doesn’t believe that about all of them. Or about me or you, or — for lack of a better term — the world. His main female characters, in particular, have brutal roads to traverse but a personal (and, so, universal) strength at their core which leads ultimately to triumph.
Like the best horror from any locale or era, reading the stories of Irredeemable brings fear and revulsion and reflection and, also, hope. Always just enough. The opportunity for redemption runs throughout every single story. Like the very best Twilight Zone morality tales or our oldest fairy tales, Jason presents a reality in which the right choices could have been made, but just (in most cases) weren’t. A reality where the punishers — be they ghosts, aliens, rednecks, orange-vested zombies, angels, demons, or even the small-digited darlings in Ms. Jean’s classroom — are not random in their cruelty or violence. Rather, they are merely carrying out some far-reaching responsibility, following the cosmic urgings of some all-knowing power. One which knows the value and meaning of… well, blood.
As this introduction is being written, Jason’s webpage claims/laments he has “not yet left his mark” as a writer. It’s time to delete that line. With the publication of Irredeemable, Jason Sizemore has officially left his mark as an author.
No, not a mark. It’s more of a slash…
Hopefully, the first of many.
So that all the blood, and promise, found within these pages is just a start.
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