A mix of the thematic hivemind and gothic tones of "The Lottery" with the small town Americana and charismatic villain of Needful Things, this superb book shows that Joan Samson was an amazing talent. We are so lucky to have gotten this book from her before she passed away suddenly from brain cancer soon after its publication in 1976, but I can't help but to wonder what else she might have had in store. Because this book is truly brilliant.
It is hard to just sum this book up as a mix of those two other tales, but it makes for an intriguing tagline. There are definitely traces of both Shirley Jackson and Stephen King in Samson's book. The way she writes about a small farming community and really creates the people who live there reminded me so much of how King is able to craft people (not just characters) within his stories. And the tone of the book, the fairly terse and compact sentences, without much fluff but with intensely clear description and vivid dialogue reminded me fiercely of Jackson and her strange gothic style.
But before you are even five pages in, it is completely clear that Samson created something all her own, completely original, and downright chilling.
I read this book with alternating white-hot rage at Perly, the auctioneer, and intense frustration at the Moores, the main family whose perspective we witness the decay of the town from. The book is engineered to make you feel this way, and also to engender an utter helplessness, because what else are they supposed to do? What other options do they have?
It is timely that this book is coming back into print now, with our social and political situation in its current upheaval. There are plenty of similarities to be seen between Perly's slow and total takeover and our government. The people in charge seem to take and take and take until we have nothing left to give but the unthinkable—to the point that even official channels are either under the spell or simply don't believe that anything like THAT could be happening, not here at least, in the land of the free.
Yes, it is perhaps a little close to home, and the timeless quality of the story definitely resonated with me. But Samson's story is also just powerful on its own literary merit and is a classic in my book.
The Valancourt Books edition has a new introduction by Paperbacks from Hell author Grady Hendrix!
Assistant editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.