My review of:
by Matthew V. Brockmeyer
Respite – respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe,
and forget this lost Lenore.
Quoth the raven,
– Edgar Allan Poe (from The Raven)
The kind nepenthe (in this case, drugs) of the title is anything but kind to the characters in this novel. Set in the hills of Humboldt County, California, the marijuana-growing capital of the world, this haunting tale will scare your socks off.
As a local resident of Humboldt County, I was eager to read this novel. When a story is set in a familiar location, it’s human nature to be curious to see if the places you know so well are mentioned in it and how the author describes your home. The author did a good job, but also took some artistic license with a few things. For example, the ancient old-growth redwood trees in the scenes on the farm don’t grow that far inland. Redwoods that far inland never reach the same size as those growing on the alluvial flats nearer the waterways. But, the large trees certainly did contribute to the mood of the scenes on the farm! Also, the farm is set along a river called the Santaroga River. This a fictional river, the name of which may be an homage to “The Santaroga Barrier” by Frank Herbert. A few other things are noticeable, such as some geographical differences, but these certainly don’t detract from the story itself. In fact, they contribute to the mood of the setting of the story.
The storyline follows a couple of young hippies, Rebecca and Calendula, who travel to the hills of Humboldt to live and work on a marijuana farm. They work for a man named Coyote, who travels a lot and spends a lot of money. The farm’s neighbors are an older man called Diesel and his son, DJ. The farm property used to belong to their family until it was sold to Coyote. DJ wants the land back so he can grow his own weed and make his fortune. His father built the grow room for Coyote and is owed a lot of money. His son’s girlfriend, Katie, is pregnant and Diesel tries to make her feel at home. But, DJ is a wild young man and prone to fits of violence. He both uses and sells drugs. All of the characters use drugs, whether that be marijuana, alcohol or meth, to drown their sorrows and make themselves feel better about their lot in life. For most of them, this backfires in incredibly negative ways. Thus, the irony of the title “Kind Nepenthe.” In their cases, their chosen “nepenthe” is anything but kind to them.
The creepy, ghost story aspects of the story come on slowly. The reader begins to notice changes in each character. The child sees and talks to a ghost. The others become influenced by ghostly forces. All this haunting culminates in a big scene on a stormy night, which I will not describe so as to not spoil it for the reader. Suffice it to say, the ghostly presences on that farm do not take kindly to people being there at all, it seems. The fact that the changes take place over time may seem to make the story move along at a slow pace, but there is always some action taking place. There are subplots involving DJ and his girlfriend, Katie, as well as Coyote. In the end, all the threads weave together nicely.
The author does a good job maintaining a sense of tension throughout the novel. Things build up at their own pace and not explosively all at once. This gives the reader a chance to see the characters when they are acting normally and then to begin to notice subtle changes in them. For example, what kind of foods they eat or how they interact with other people. The setting of the marijuana farm is accurately described and full of detail. The way the characters relate to the plants, and their large presence in the consciousness of certain characters, almost makes the plants themselves another character in the story.
The characters themselves are well-developed and thoroughly described. We get the backstory for each important character and this helps us understand their motivations and dreams for the future. They have faults and failings just like real people and none of them is perfect.
The history of the farm property is told in glimpses throughout the novel. We don’t really know for sure what happened there, but it was certainly a bad thing. I think it’s best that the author keeps this somewhat mysterious, rather than spelling it out directly. If the thing that happened is kept somewhat unclear, then the reader’s imagination can take over and come up with their own story of what happened. This makes the novel work much better than if the author had just come out and told us. I like that aspect of the story. Not knowing allows more room for the reader to think up their own history of the events that may have taken place, making the reading experience richer in the process because the reader can use their imagination.
Overall, my opinion is that this is a pretty good book. It’s a good solid read and a scary story to keep you awake late at night. I recommend it if you like ghost stories, or just plain scary tales!
I’d like to thank NatGalley and the publisher for the advance reader copy I received in exchange for my honest review.