J. Dorn's Reviews > Crude Sunlight

Crude Sunlight by Phil Tucker
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's review
Nov 03, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: horror, 2012

Holy shit, Phil.

I must confess, lest my writing a big-ass review strike anyone as strange, that this was not my first introduction to Mr. Tucker's writing. Phil and I used to nerd out together playing pre-reboot World of Darkness on a site that is no longer with us, and even back then I can remember being awed by his attention to detail and his ability to paint a scene on the fly. It doesn't matter whether he's describing something straight out of a nightmare that shouldn't exist or if he's discussing an otherwise normal Sunday afternoon, the man notices things that people like me tend to ignore.

People like me are too busy worrying about the motivation of the person sitting ten seats away from on the bus to whom she's never going to speak and wasting entire paragraphs describing events that happened months or years ago that explain why shit is the way shit is now but really don't have anything to do with the shit that is occurring right now.

Long story short, Phil and I have different writing styles. Phil, however, happens to be someone whose writing style I admire and is someone I respect as a person. If you think that means I would spare his feelings if I thought this sucked, you don't know me very well.

That said, here is what I thought.

So I went into this thinking it would be about a missing brother. That's like going into Silent Hill 2 thinking it's going to be about a dead wife. About halfway through, the plot took a hard turn and left "kids screw around in the basement of a haunted abandoned state hospital and one of them stops showing up for class what the shit" territory and went into--okay, that would be a spoiler. Suffice to say the plot thickens.

What I got to see over the course of an entire novel that I did not get to see during a typical six-hour RP session was Phil's command of pacing. Phil writes the way one drives a stick-shift vehicle through the mountains, which I suppose is imperative if one wants to write in the psychological horror genre. The engine, to continue using this terrible analogy, never stalled even though it was a little clunky on the straightaways, and the paint job could have used a little work and one of the people in the car with you is a fucked-up art student so sometimes you want to hit her but you understand why she does that trying-to-sound-more-worldly-than-she-actually-is thing so you try to be patient with her.

That's really my only criticism, is that this feels self-published. Which is a stupid criticism, because it is self-published. Like, I got to read this awesome story for less than five bucks, what am I complaining about. It's not as polished as the novels I'm used to reading, so there are a few typos and places where the flow of the narrative or the dialogue could have benefitted from editing, but that feels like a ridiculous criticism when one takes into consideration the fact that it was engrossing from the first page. I identified with the characters in a way that I haven't with a lot of things I've read recently, and in its darkest moments, when the protagonist was standing on a threshold unable or refusing to go forward, I found myself yelling at him to keep going.

And it does get dark. It gets hopeless, with abandonment and faith being recurring issues that the characters have to grapple with, and it gets to where it seems like there is no possible way to resolve the conflict without someone killing himself, but that's how life gets. There are moments of unimaginable horror and moments of normalcy that are grotesque and painful in the aftermath but then you recover and even though it doesn't seem like it's ever going to let up you keep going anyway. The only reason I stopped reading as frequently as I did is because I needed to catch my breath. That's an important quality in a novel for me, and that's what separates 4 stars from 3, for me: I want to know what happens next.

The ending might strike some people as abrupt. I, for one, kept going "AAAAAH" and "OH MY GODDDDD" out loud while reading the passage leading up to it, though, so make of that as you will.

Now that I've finished and am having the sort of "Holy shit I survived and the sun's still shining life is beautiful" moment of clarity that I typically have after finishing a Silent Hill game, I want to know what else Phil has lurking in that brain of his, and I'll be picking up his other novels at some point.

I'm going to close out this review with a passage that got to me. It occurs early on and nothing "happens," which compared to what has come before and after ought to make it seem like a relief, but knowing that this character, Eric, has locked himself up in a rundown house in a shitty part of Buffalo and stopped taking care of himself after his friend and adversary has gone missing--and, in hindsight, knowing what his fate is--makes it more disturbing.

The photographs were stark close ups of random objects. The base of a lamp. A crack between two flagstones where a clump of weeds arose in sharp focus. A handful of coins scattered across the base of a porcelain sink. A shattered bulb, filament still intact. A portion of a swirling letter, graffitied onto a brick wall. Each was precisely taken, the center in sharp relief against a blurred backdrop. Eric watched them both with a neutral expression, rubbing his thumb along the line of his jaw as he did so.

“Is this what you’ve been doing with your time?” asked Thomas, turning to regard him.

“Yes,” said Eric, pursing his lips and dropping his hands by his side, only to slide them into his pockets and them draw them free once more. “Yes, you could say that.”

Thomas nodded, turning to look at an abstract shot of black square shadows on a white surface, too close to discern what they were a part of. He felt like an art critic, come to an impoverished artist’s studio to inspect his work.

Julia ducked under a line and then a second to look at some photographs hanging from a third behind them all. “Those –“ said Eric, starting forward and then stopping, stepping back, “Those were the first I took, with, if you look, a small object that is consistent in each. I started using a marble at first, placing it as a common element in each shot, but then realized that I didn’t need it. My seeing was the common element, if you will, and that is what unites each shot into a collective whole. They’re - they’re all things that I have seen, compositions of a world that I have witnessed, and through the witnessing, asserted.” He stopped as suddenly as he began, closing his mouth with a snap, and looking warily from one to the next.

“They’re all close-ups,” said Julia, still moving from one print to the next. “Extreme close-ups.” Eric nodded unhappily, opening his mouth as if to say more and then subsiding. Julia stopped and looked through the erratic arrays of photographs to where Eric stood. “Why close-ups, Eric? You used to just do portraits.”

Eric chewed on the inside of his cheek before shrugging to examine the window sill and brush some dust off with quick sweeps of his fingers. “Well. Portraits. People. I’m more interested in the actual now, the real. The basics.” He turned his head and glanced at Thomas. “Everything is complex. The more complex the image, the greater the chance to deceive. You keep things basic, you have a chance to get the seeing right. To see what is there. You take shots of people, and you risk – you risk not knowing – well.” He frowned and looked down, shook his head.
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Reading Progress

November 3, 2011 – Shelved
December 31, 2011 – Started Reading
January 1, 2012 –
January 1, 2012 –
January 3, 2012 –
41.0% "Jesus Christ Phil this is scary as hell and I don't want to stop reading."
January 7, 2012 –
57.0% "My neighbors starting blaring some Bryan Adams song as I got to a pertinent plot point and I couldn't stop laughing because that song is goddamn ridiculous. Will come back and finish when they've passed out in a few hours."
January 7, 2012 –
78.0% "aaaaaaaaaaaaaah"
January 7, 2012 – Finished Reading
April 29, 2012 – Shelved as: horror
August 27, 2012 – Shelved as: 2012

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message 1: by Phil (new) - added it

Phil Tucker Go Jamie go! Can't wait to hear what you thought of it.

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