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In the Tall Grass by Stephen King and Joe Hill

Maybe it’s because I started reading Stephen King at age 11. Maybe it’s because I have a darker sense of humor than the average Palahniuk fan. Maybe it’s that all of my repressed childhood issues – that I’m currently blissfully unaware of – are trying to burst forth. Whatever the reason may be, I’m rarely disturbed by literature. Sure I once wrote a list dedicated to literature’s most disturbing characters, but am I really disturbed by Guy Woodhouse? No, I’m more disturbed by my adamant belief that the selfish, passive sell-out deserves to be castrated (I’ll be a famous movie star; you have the devil’s baby – fair, right?).

I’m more likely to be unsettled by the traditional romance novel. Hello, I’ve known you two days; we’ve had the best sex imaginable in every possible place. She’s a virgin, he’s a whore – they get married and live happily ever after. I am perhaps condensing the plot a bit, but you get the general idea (unless it starts out with passionate hatred which quickly turns into an equally passionate love affair). Who am I to judge? According to this list (which you must read because it’s perfectly tongue-in-cheek): my love of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing indicates that ‘you think affection is best shown in insult form — and you expect a lot from your lover.’ Possibly true.

However, despite my absurdly strong psyche and my low tolerance for romance novels, the inevitable has finally happened. I was disturbed. I was so utterly nauseated my stomach turned.

I read In the Tall Grass by Stephen King and Joe Hill.

in-the-tall-grass

Cal and Becky DeMuth are as close as brother and sister can be without crossing that line. Becky, at 19, finds herself pregnant and alone (except for Cal). Together, Cal and Becky decide to drive to California to have the baby. They are driving through Kansas when they hear the pleas and shouts for help. With the radio off and the windows down, Cal and Becky hear a little boy pleading for rescue, he’s gotten lost in the tall grass. Not wanting to ignore the little boy, but simultaneously willing to ignore all the abandoned cars stretched along the highway, they venture into the tall grass to find him. How hard can it be?

(Never ask that question, the answer is always very, very hard.)

If Mile 81 met The Ruins (and the two were casual acquaintances with The Tommyknockers), the result might be In the Tall Grass – a novella both visceral and foreboding. I’m generally wary of author collaborations, but this one exceeded my expectations. The writing flows seamlessly and the two effortlessly craft a horror novella to remember (if, as Stephen King said, “Gross is good”). You might learn a dirty limerick or two (aside from the classic ‘There Once Was a Man From Nantucket’) and, unless you’re a sociopath, you’ll likely be physically unsettled at least once. In regards to horror novellas, I would consider that a success – if a nauseating one. 4/5. A story for the true horror fan and a bloody good read – literally, of course. It’s not for the easily disturbed or disgusted, unless you like that sort of thing. I’ll leave you with this:

What she had eaten hadn’t tasted like grass. It had tasted like sardines. Like the final sweet-salty-bitter swallow of a margarita. And like…

But what did she eat? I won’t tell you. I will tell you that the next time I drink a margarita, I will have a hard time. And I may rethink my aversion to romance novels. Although I don’t believe you’ll want to eat after reading this lovely bit of grotesquerie, I’ll recommend Nutella-Stuffed Brown Butter and Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies (stolen from Kate’s review via Ambitious Kitchen). It’s got that nice bit of sea salt for added flavor, not unlike Becky’s dish of choice.

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