SPELLS by RM Vaughan (ECW Books), 236 pages, $19.95 paper. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Spells, R.M. Vaughan's second novel, breaks a lot of rules - beautifully. It's set on the East Coast but strays from the requisite maritime-boy-with-ocean snore-fest. An abuse story, it offers no sentimentality or over-analytical self-helpish nattering.
There are no heroes, and that's another standard Vaughan violates. All the characters in this book are generally loathsome but have periodic spells of sweetness or brutal human honesty, and that makes you want to keep reading.
And finally, it's a coming-of-age and coming-out story that avoids the clichés of those genres.
Andy Loch, the protagonist, is a fat little gay boy, pimple-faced and awkward, a pariah on Doline Street in 70s small-town New Brunswick. Andy believes his family is cursed and that his father has evil powers. He dabbles clumsily in the black arts, blaming himself and his father for many horrible deaths that happen in the little town.
Andy's father, Al, is a compulsive liar. Lying becomes central to their relationship and to the narrative as a whole. The truth is never completely clear. It's possible to read Spells and believe two different stories. Is he a crazy kid with a narcissist father, or does he have the gift?
Consistently clever, Vaughan has a poet's eye for detail. While graphic violence stitches the plot together, it doesn't rely on paperback horror language. That said, Spells is not for the squeamish. No body part, process or fluid is too sacred to describe in words, from miscarriages to decapitations, from headless rodents to intestinal traumas.
Too bad about the uninspired cover design. A minimalist white background with a single black pentagram makes the book look like it belongs in the New Age section.
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