Michael's Reviews > The Hour of the Oxrun Dead

The Hour of the Oxrun Dead by Charles L. Grant
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's review
Oct 18, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: horror
Read from October 11 to 14, 2010

I'd never heard of Charles L. Grant, until he died in 2006. Shortly after his death, Cemetery Dance ran a tribute issue to him, devoting two or three story slots to unpublished horror tales he'd written, and quite a bit of laudatory essays and personal accounts from his friends and fans. During his life, he'd been known more for his influential horror anthologies in the 80s, which according to many of the authors featured in the Cemetery Dance tribute issue, offered a haven for more subtle horror that did not depend on gore or extreme violence or gimmicky sci-fi for its entertainment value. I was not too thrilled with his short stories I read in Cemetery Dance but the praise his fellow genre authors spouted, and a quote from Stephen King calling Grant "the premier horror writer of his or any generation" compelled me to pick up an old paperback copy of one of the more popular novels set in his signature Oxrun Station.

The Hour of the Oxrun Dead is a subtle novel of terror, vacillating between a sense of mounting paranoia and the possibility of some real occult activity in sleepy Oxrun Station, a Connecticut village, a haven for small town provincial and a bedroom community for commuters. Natalie, a young, sexy librarian (they only exist in novels and movies, it seems) is the widow of Ben, a police officer in Oxrun who is murdered soon after he and Natalie marry. For some reason, Natalie feels the need to stay in Oxrun, a town that offers her little else but job security, even though she has gotten over the pain of Ben's loss. She starts falling for a young beat reporter for the local weekly paper, Marc, and together they begin to come up with what seem to be grand delusions about the town's upper crust establishment. Grant manages to create a comfortable, almost cozy bit of suburban horror with his very familiar setting and cast of characters - the creepy police chief, the corrupt banker, the old craggy innkeeper, the wicked head librarian, the megalomaniac millionaire. But the implications of the "plot" Natalie and Marc imagine some horrible small town cult enacting don't cross the boundaries of this sleepy little village. In the end, who cares what these folks do with Natalie and Marc. They lose all of their likability when Grant has them frolicking and flirting through the cemetery directly after the funeral of one of Natalie's only friends.

Oxrun Station has the odd, doomed quaintness of Stephen King's Derry or Castle Rock, which is an easy trope for a writer of horror in the 80s. There's no sense of the time period, however, in The Hour of the Oxrun Dead, no sense of an innocent yet excessive mid-80s decadence, which could spruce up the somewhat banal story. The supernatural elements of the novel seem psychological, a quiet muffled background conversation heard behind a tedious plot, like Argento's Suspiria but with little of the physical beauty and grandeur. There's still a tradition of quiet horror, both in literature and cinema, which combats the torture porn aesthetic of movies like Saw and books like Palahniuk's Haunted or the bizarro sub-genre. If Grant is responsible for bringing this approach intact through the 80s, we should thank him for it. I think to understand his true impact on horror, it might be important to read the anthologies he edited and is best known for and let his novels sit on the shelf.
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