“Join Chad Lutzke and John Boden for a trip out behind their barn”
Review by Tony Jones
Before I open the door into Chad Ludzke and John Boden’s excellent novella Out Behind the Barn a brief diversion into the history of the story is in order, as it is eloquently explained by Chad in the endnotes. This piece began life as a short story named Maggie’s Farm which was written by Boden, and after a couple of different versions were rejected by short story publishers, which had also been read by Lutzke, Chad offered to help develop the story. Before long he had added 15,000 words. After that the pair collaboratively bounced the story back and forth until they were happy with it. This is worth a moment of thought; as for any budding writers out there, this example clearly shows that the gestation period for a story can be significant. Is there a lesson to be learned? Perhaps one should never be afraid to ask for some literary guidance or help. It also highlights how writers can bring different aspects and styles to the literary table of any one story and I’m sure the final version of Out Behind the Barn is much richer because of the friendship and affection the co-authors obviously have for each other.
Out Behind the Barn is a brief, but perfectly formed novella which you might read in one sitting over about ninety minutes. Because of its brevity, it is crucial not to give too many spoilers in this review. The story plays out with exquisite pacing and its secrets, and the crucial supernatural element, being revealed very slowly. If anything, the story ended rather abruptly, this is not any particular criticism of the conclusion. My kindle was still at the 80% region and I was not quite prepared for the ending. I would happily have carried on reading as it was flowing beautifully and there was one plot-line left hanging which could have been explored in the conclusion.
The tale opens with Davey and Ronnie watching Miss Maggie unloading a heavy burden and heave it into the nearby barn. The two boys are relatively excited about this, but you get the feeling its nothing new to them. The next morning a woman they do not know join them for breakfast and she has a large bump on her head. Davey mutters to himself: “She must’ve used the hammer”. And before long the two boys are best friends with the new arrival, Miss Rose.
It’s hard to say much more about the tightly written plot without giving too much away, apart from Maggie, Rose, Davey and Ronnie there is only one other significant character, with the majority of the plot playing out on the remote farm setting with the two little boys in central roles. Readers will enjoy the drip of clues the authors drop, why do the boys not go to school? Where did Miss Rose come from? And what’s the big deal with the barn? On the simplest level the story centres upon the two boys and their weird connection to Maggie, with the reader trying to figure out why their family is so off-kilter. But when you scratch beyond this surface (and it is a surface) it is ultimately a very sad and meditate study of loss, which has some very moving sequences right at the end.
Out Behind the Barn is mostly seen from the points of view of Davey and Ronnie and much of the intrigue cleverly comes from what remains unsaid and you’ll quickly find yourself reading between the lines as the child’s point of view might not necessarily be an accurate one. Their relationship with Maggie is also one of the highlights of the tale, a mixture of fear and an affection of sorts, which spreads into their shared reading material of Edgar Allan Poe and Ray Bradbury. Overall, it was beautifully written, perhaps reminiscent of a fable, which completely nailed an element of distorted childhood, memories, and which was richly atmospheric.
I’ve read John Boden previously and enjoyed his nostalgic memoir to the 1980s in JEDI Summer with The Magnetic Kid. This, however, was the first time I have read Chad Lutzke and I’ve since downloaded Skullface Boy which has also been picking up rave reviews in the horror community. Collaborations can often be slightly hit and miss and often I feel that one author has done most of the work with the second being a backseat driver. This was most certainly not the case with Out Behind the Barn which was the most marvelous of collaborations.