ONE OF US
July 17, 2018
Reviewed by Brian James Lewis
When I read and reviewed One of Us by Craig DiLouie for Hellnotes this summer, I was really excited about it. Amazingly enough those feelings never went away and I wanted to make sure to share them with you here before year’s end. DiLouie presents a rich collection of powerful images that are branded into your brain as you read. Here’s a couple of them: A boy named Enoch Bryant who has the head and limbs of a dog. He stands upright, wears clothes and goes to school. A dilapidated mansion that is the remnant of a large plantation in Huntsville, Georgia. Its original purpose was to house cruel people who kept slaves to do all their dirty work. In 1984, the grandness is long gone, but the cruelty behind those doors isn’t. A strikingly beautiful teenage girl who’s innocent on the outside and dirtier than a truck stop hooker on the inside. She might be true to her beau or toss everything away for a cheap thrill. A small southern farm town that looks like a picture postcard, but has enough secrets and dirty laundry to burn down a paper mill. Over all that, lay down a big powerful soundtrack made up of songs by Black Flag, The Clash, X, and Oingo Boingo singing “No Spill Blood.” If you’re not familiar with this band, look this song up-It will add much to your experience!
I hope you are intrigued by my lengthy and lurid introduction! One of Us is a book about monsters that everyone should read. Yes, fans of horror, science fiction, and fantasy always enjoy well done monsters, but there’s a lot more going on here. The monsters in Craig DiLouie’s book are constantly changing, shifting shape, and proving that there’s a lot more to a person than how they look. In fact, it will surprise you just who the monsters really are in a book rich with emotions and images that you won’t be able to get out of your head for a while. There are twists and turns galore in this excellent novel. You’ll be kept off balance or hanging on the edge of your seat a lot. So make sure to wear comfortable clothes and sturdy shoes! Oh, and you might involuntarily shout at times when the action gets really hot. I know I did!
Our point of entry is The Home-an orphanage that is meant for the containment of plague children. Which, put that way, sounds like a noble and health conscious effort by the town of Huntsville to keep everyone safe. Unfortunately, there is nothing kind or gentle about raising these children that everyone has identified as monsters. Besides Enoch Bryant, who is called Dog, Goof’s face is upside down. Brain has the head of a lion and the body of a gorilla, while Wallee glides around on things that look like roots. All manner of combinations exist and some of the children don’t appear to be altered much until they are put into situations of intense stress. A strain of what the adults in town call “plague germs” are the cause of these mutations. They are kept away from “normal” society and forced to work on farms for free and other demeaning jobs.
A few miles away, in the village proper, life goes on in a semi-normal fashion. The year is 1984 and we are in the rural south. Many of the kids live on farms or have parents who work at The Home. Even though some of the more broad minded teachers in the area are trying to show the kids that the monsters are really just unfortunate children, the overall consensus is that the creepers at the home are horrible and should be dead. Some of the children at the home are quite aware of this, others like Dog, are still hoping that the humans are friends that will help them and see to their welfare. There is a sheriff in town and he is a mixture of decency and pomposity. He is a smart man and knows the truth about many things, but he also wants to get re-elected. Plus, who gives a hoot about the monster kids anyway? The only time anyone does is when caring about the kids will benefit them. Like the good old US Government, they care when they exploit the special powers of the plague children. Otherwise, they keep many of them locked up like one might serial killers or high level drug dealers. The kids try to be friendly and cooperative to adults that give grief in return. Especially Mr. Gaines who gets my vote for stalker of the year.
Reading One of Us made me shout in surprise and anger while trapped on the emotional roller coaster that DiLouie put us through. I felt the fear and anger deeply. There were times when I even felt hopeful, then crushed when the humans failed. Especially when I understood what “the plague” really was and how it came to be. Amy Green and her mother will put you through the wringer. I’m still not sure how I feel about them! Maybe they’re victims, but they are also experts at manipulation and even murder. But they do what they have to in order to survive. If the men can cat around whenever they feel like it, then why can’t women? Jake Coombs is a noble young man who aches to do the right thing. He and Dog are very similar in their direct and innocent approaches to the world of “normals.”
This is a FIVE STAR work that has risen high on my Wall of Fame! As the book races towards its climax in the last third, One of Us just keeps blowing you away. Your heart will be broken, sensibilities altered, and you will find yourself taking a good hard look at the powers that enforce the rules wherever you live. For those of us who feel marginalized, this book brings hope by showing what a bunch of “good for nothings” can do when their backs are against the wall. A smashingly good book with so much to say! Don’t wait another minute to purchase your own copy of One Of Us! Available NOW from Orbit, Amazon.com, and your favorite bookseller. Put those holiday dollars and gift cards to good use on a purchase you’ll never regret!