Thursday 21 May 2020

Book Review: Blister

Book Review: Blister

Review by Casey Douglass


As humans, we often place a lot of emphasis on what we see. A snap judgement can make all the difference between surviving a terrible attack, or laying in a hospital bed wondering why you didn’t run sooner. We also tend to like stuff that “looks nice”. Jeff Strand’s Blister is a horror novel that plays with the notion of beauty, horror and survival, weaving them together to make the reader question how they might react in a similar situation. I bought it on the Kindle store a short while ago and this is my review.

The story opens with the line: “I’m a liar, but this is the truth.” In my opinion, a great opening line. We find out that the events of Blister happened during the mid 1980's and that Jason Tray, a cartoonist, is the one telling us the tale. In an attempt to scare some kids who are terrorizing his dog, Jason goes a little bit overboard, making great use of a fake chainsaw in the process. The fallout from this is that he has to lay low in a Georgian cabin, waiting for the tension back home to ease.

Jason meets some locals and enjoys a drunken evening playing pool, but this soon leads to his being invited to come and see something interesting. He finds himself peering through the window of a strange house, setting eyes on the deformed Blister for the first time. He’s horrified and what’s worse, she knows he looked inside. The next morning, he feels ashamed and decides to revisit the house to apologise. This is where he gets to know the real Blister, and this sows the seeds of his quiet getaway turning into chaos.

The first thing I really appreciated about Blister was that it revelled in the grey areas of motivation. Jason himself isn’t sure if he is acting out of guilt, pity or self-interest, and I found this to be an excellent way to engage the reader. As I read, I found I was questioning myself on how I might have reacted in certain of the situations that he and Blister found themselves in, with the result quite often being that I’d have run a mile. I found Blister herself to be a great character. She came across as someone both vulnerable and strong at the same time. She wasn’t simply a two-dimensional “freak”, but a rounded human being.

Another big element that I enjoyed was the setting of Blister, especially the “small town mentality” that permeated events. It’s the kind of town where news travels fast, secrets are buried and dealt with on the quiet, and outsiders, while not usually unwelcome, are none the less suspect. This setting also led to one of the best “non-barfights” I think I’ve ever read, one in which both men don’t really want to fight but a bored girlfriend just keeps stirring the tension. This is heightened by Jason’s awareness of what is going on and his bafflement at how ridiculous it all is. It made me chuckle.

The horror, when it comes, lives in the descriptions of what happened to Blister, showing why she is how she is. This echoes through Jason’s own involvement in the story, and leads to some sadistic torture-based scenes that were genuinely uncomfortable. I could feel myself in that situation and it was both horrible and riveting to read in equal measure. If anything, the way the story finishes feels slightly less riveting in comparison, the outcome of events satisfactory, but not really hitting those “oh shit!” feelings achieved by the midpoint. I was happy with the ending though, it made sense and for me, got the right mix of happy and sad.

Going into Blister, I was kind of under the preconceived notion that it would be a “murderous horror-freak” type tale, even though the blurb does hint that it’s not that simple. I wasn’t expecting a more nuanced story or one that would make me think so much, and that was a pleasant surprise. The horror and madness is strong in a number of scenes, but the rest is all about the consequences, so even if you are a bit squeamish, you might still like the story too. I really enjoyed it.

You can find Blister on Amazon and on the Sinister Grin Press website.

Book Title: Blister
Book Author: Jeff Strand
Publisher: Sinister Grin Press
Released: 2016
ISBN: 978-1944044190
Current Price: £2.06 (Kindle)