Carnivorous Lunar Activities by Max Booth III
Book Review by Shane Douglas Keene
A funny thing about humor in horror is that I more often than not don’t find it funny, and I frequently find it annoying. I haven’t had much luck in that arena, with a few notable exceptions that I can count on one hand. They are, John Dies at the End by David Wong, Wolf Hunt by Jeff Strand, and How to Successfully Kidnap Strangers by Max Booth III. And it’s that last author that I’m here to talk about today. Well, not him so much, maybe a little trash talking along the way, but what I really, really want to tell you about is his knockout punch of a novel from FANGORIA, Carnivorous Lunar Activities. Now, if you haven’t read Max’s work, you should be delighted. You’re about to discover a brand new favorite author and it’s going to be one hell of a treat. If you have read his stuff, then you know that, try as he might, Max Booth III is just completely incapable of fucking up a story. In fact, just the opposite is true and it seems that everything he puts pen to, at least that for public consumption, is solid gold every single time. But never so much as this amazing tale he’s penned for one of my favorite, blissfully newly revived horror rags.
So let me get this thing rolling by introducing you to Ted and Justin, two average dudebros in whitebread America, doing what average dudebros in whitebread America do: telling dick jokes, trying to out-insult one another, and drinking copious amounts of Pabst Blue Ribbon. But let me back up a little bit and paint you a somewhat broader picture before I dig into the specifics of this deliciously meaty story.
When the book first opens, we find Ted in his car. He’s sitting outside his mother-in-laws house thinking about going in. Thinking very bad, very dark thoughts about what he might do if he does enter. Marriage on the rocks after a fling with one of his co-workers, he’s a man who’s both desperate and desperately in love and he’s entertaining evil ideas about what to do about the loss and the pain he’s feeling. But his ringing phone serves to redirect him from his path and send him packing to his hometown of Hammond, and this is where the story begins to go into full-blown Booth-mode. It’s here that we meet Justin and things very quickly begin to get strange. Because he has an extremely unusual request that sends the story into a raucously horrifying tailspin. And, between his problems with his wife Shelly and the bizarre favor his best friend is asking of him, Ted’s quality of life is about to deteriorate in ways he never imagined.
Interestingly, this lightning fast read takes place for the most part in the basement of Justin’s house, where one of the most interesting dialogues/monologues takes place in a way that completely fascinated me. There is a reason why I used both the plural and the singular there but I won’t tell you that. Read it. Suffice it to say that this is where you really see the true beauty of this tale, experience the dark magic that flows through Max’s veins and out the tip of his pen. Booth controls the pacing throughout using the clock, choreographing this sequence of events such that we feel almost like we’re experiencing them in real-time. There’s a special occasion set to occur at midnight and the narrative frequently refers to the clock. The characters and the banter and conversation between Ted and Justin is what drives this thing, the pacing, the backstory, the constantly building tension that will serve to stress you the fuck out and give you the ever-intensifying sensation that some bad shit is about to happen. Oh, and also Pabst Blue Ribbon. A lot of fucking PBR serves to move this literally staggering tale.
Max Booth III has proven himself over the years to be an avid student of the human condition, one who isn’t afraid to pull out all the stops and display it with bald-faced brutality and honesty. And that truth was never more evident than it is right here. The characterization and the witty dialogue serve to keep the reader fully engaged in the story, the visuals as stunning and clear as a Sunday werewolf matinee, one whose marquee reads, “Deadly Shit is Coming.” And it is, believe me, it is. As we move into the story and eventually away from Ted’s basement, this story switches from full throttle horrific hilarity to to run-away-freight-train, in your face mayhem and brutality. Max’s eye is Ketchum-like in his unflinching willingness to stare directly at the violence and viscera and, as such, expects his readers to be of similar bent. And while I can’t speak for other horror fans, I can tell you that this reader is most certainly wearing the same stripes.
Well written brutality and gore along with rock solid characterization is my jam and Booth spreads it on thick here. My favorite traditional monster in horror is the werewolf, but let me tell you, this is not your standard conventional tale of fangs, fur, and flying heads. It’s vicious. It gets right up in your personal space and makes you watch. But that’s okay. You’re going to want to see the nightmarish wonders that Max Booth III has to offer in Carnivorous Lunar Activities.
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It sounds like a fabulous read. You’re right about horror humor. If it’s not done well, it’s worse than not having any humor at all.
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