Growing pains and snowy horrors – “Cruel Winter” by Anthony Izzo
Tomboy Emma has sprouted boobs and is being harassed by her perv of a cousin. Her single mom is also teetering on the brink of losing her job. Jock Chris is being pressured by his Dad to be a star athlete. Nerdy gamer Paul has a drunken dad who beats the crap out of him frequently, and a mom who spends her days passed out in bed. They, along with Jack (the only one with a “normal” family) are all being bullied by a knife-wielding punk-ass named Vinnie.
A week before Christmas break, a chubby loser named Ronnie Winter walks into their world, and all hell breaks loose.
During a fight with Vinnie the punk, Jack inadvertently rescues/befriends the new kid. Hearing of this, Ronnie’s impossibly young-seeming mother invites Jack to their home. It turns out that Ronnie is insanely rich, and he and his mom have moved into the Steadman estate, one of those mansions that no one has lived in for years. There, Jack finds himself promising Ronnie’s mom that he’ll watch out for Ronnie. Though she’s pretty, and seems to be nice, there’s something about Ronnie’s mom that seems odd to Jack. She seems to be able to control his thoughts, as well as the thoughts of his friends, his parents, and anyone else she comes into contact with. That’s weird, right?
There’s also a monstrous and bandaged killer on the loose, killing folks and leaving them all over the place. Or, it might be a zombie? It doesn’t seem to have eyeballs, but no one can really get a good look at it.
If I say more, there’ll be spoilers and then you’ll be mad at me.
“Cruel Winter” is a chilling little cupcake of a horror novel. It’s small and frothy and entrancing, and pure junk food. Izzo writes briskly, and focuses on what’s important and interesting. There seems to be a theme of the worse the home life, the more rich the character. Emma’s battle against her cousin, and Paul’s climactic moments against his father are among the novel’s best-written, and they’re the kids you walk away liking the most. It’s hard to sympathize with athletic jocks being pushed by sports-obsessed Dads, so Chris and his Dad are glossed over, and never really reach any sort of resolution. Though Jack is our hero, he’s just the normal kid. His family is normal, even his lunches are normal.
If we’re talking about scary, the book registers as exciting and has a few moments of serious creepiness. (Bandaged man, anyone?) However, I couldn’t help thinking of another book the whole time I was reading it…
There’s another novel that takes the same basic premise: a rag-tag gang of young kids (all boys, save one tomboy) with crappy home lives battling an evil bigger than they know.
Yeah, it reminded me of Stephen King’s terrifying bestseller, “It.” Only, not as scary. King was fortunate enough to have Pennywise the clown as the personification of the evil that takes the shape of what you most fear. Though the Bandaged man of “Cruel Winter” is creepy, he’s just not Pennywise. The deep sense of foreboding, that something god-awful is about to come up through your bathroom sink, isn’t there.
However, let me say in closing that I compare the book to “It” both as a criticism and as a compliment. Though it doesn’t reach the heights of the glory of Stephen King, it reminded me of him as I was reading it. It kept me interested for the duration of a 3 hour ride on Amtrak. (God bless it.) Izzo’s got some good instincts and chops as a writer. I’d be curious to see what else he’s come up with. (“Evil Harvest” looks interesting?)
Oh and hey – Visit Anthony Izzo’s Blog.