Tuesday, December 28

Survivor by J.F. Gonzalez

Let it be said that J.F. Gonzalez's novel - Survivor - is quite possibly one of the most powerful books in the horror genre today. Between a plot set-up that is quite Laymon-esque (for it's grandiose themes and plots twists), and a writing style reminicent of Ketchum (for it's accessibility and simplicity), Gonzalez has not only crafted a very disturbing tale of rape, murder, and the underground snuff community; but he's also proven that sometimes 'going the distance' can be done with style.

It is supposed to be a romantic weekend getaway. Lisa is looking forward to spending time alone with her husband—and telling him that they are going to have a baby. Instead, it becomes a nightmare when her husband is arrested and Lisa is kidnapped. But the kidnappers aren’t asking for ransom. They want Lisa herself. They’re going to make her a star—in a snuff film.

What they have in mind for Lisa is unspeakable. They plan to torture and murder her as graphically and brutally as possible, and to capture it all on film. If they have their way, Lisa’s death will be truly horrifying…but even more horrifying is what Lisa will do to survive.…

The beginning of this book is absolutely innocuous. In fact, judging from all that I'd heard about Survivor, I was under the impression that I'd be throttled from the get-go, and was shocked to find that I wasn't at all.

This should have been the first warning sign.

Scratch that. The first warning sign should have been Brian Keene's endorsement on the blurb page.

"Quite possibly the most disturbing book I've ever read in my life" - Brian Keene

The sheer beauty of this novel lies in the fact that it does reach out an grab you. It quite possibly is the most disturbing book you will ever read. The lull of what looks to be, at first glance, a crime/thriller novel, is incredibly deceptive and, in Gonzalez's hands, expertly carried out. And right when the reader is getting ready to aknowledge the fact that something is going to happen that will take the story to the next level, Gonzalez takes it that much farther.

The action is pretty steady for the first 50 or so pages, chronicling the events that will eventually lead up to a seriously heart thumping climax that seems to span an immeasurable amount of time. And I'm talking about a good 300+ pages of high octane, blood boiling, massively evil - meanness. The real deception here is that the climax that the reader will come up against is really only one of many. Twists and turns run rampant in this little novel, blowing all pre-conceived notions of what 'shocking' and 'terrifying' actually are. What Gonzalez does to these characters is absolutely sadistic and mean, but he does it skillfully - managing to remain completely respectful and not crossing any major lines/taboos with his language and description. The fact that he gets so far out there with this story does not mean that he won't reign it in when needed. It's very evident that Gonzalez was uncomfortable writing some of these scenes, which comes not only as a relief, but also as a saving grace for the reader. I can't imagine the absolute vulgarity and crassness that might have happened if someone not as skilled as Gonzalez tackled this subject matter.

Now, that doesn't mean that the author doesn't go straight for the throat though. No, no, no. Gonzalez attacks with everything, and leaves nothing but bloody trails behind.

His characters are sympathetic, brutal, nasty, and absolutely terrifying in their intensity. The reader really has to be prepared for some of the most honest emotion they've read to come pouring off of these pages. And that's not always for the better. There are points where one can actually understand why and how the offender in this particular is doing something. It's almost sickening to be able to sympathize with that. And that's exactly what I'm talking about here. Gonzalez has the power over the reader. This is how a book should be written.

All in all, I wouldn't suggest Survivor to anyone but the most hard core of horror fans. It's absolutely vicious and brutal, but if you do grab yourself a copy, you're in for an incredible story, and a great example of how an author can really grab a reader and command his/her emotions with the best laid words.

I really cannot say this enough: Survivor is an incredible powerful book, and Gonzalez really deserves to be noticed for his superb ability to transform the reading of one novel into an incredibly harrowing journey. I'm glad I read this book, though I must stand by my warning against taking it lightly.

You can check out J.F. Gonzalez at his website, on Twitter, and at his blog. You can grab copies of Survivor at pretty much any big box online book retailer in their Used/Rare section.



  1. Great review. Sounds like some early Lansdale stuff.

  2. I, too, have been singing this novel's praises for a few years in my blog and elsewhere. It's a mostly ignored classic.

  3. Haven't heard tell of it, but I just slapped it on the ol' wish list. Nice review. I could go for another gut-wrencher in 2011.

  4. Gotta say, guys. You're pretty much all right, but this book is BRUTAL! If you have a chance to read it all in one sitting, bring an oxygen tank, 'cause it'll whoop your ass.

  5. Vague...easy to predict...dumb as nails characters..unbelieveable plot..I could go on. If you want real horror that is not dumbed down and is actually "gory" try Lee, Ketchum, Keene. At least those guys can form coherent sentences that aren't laced with obvious foreshadowing and pages upon pages of characters crying and doing completely unbelievable actions.

  6. I agree with you, Anonymous, that there are some books out there that are "gorier" than Gonzalez's effort with Survivor.

    Take a look at Laymon's ONE RAINY NIGHT, or any of Wrath James White's books as an example. Though, I don't ever recall Ketchum or Keene going as far the distance as Gonzalez does in this book, with the exception of Keene's URBAN GOTHIC - which was written as a homage to Lee.

    I found this novel to be an incredibly powerful piece that pushed (and still continues to push) the envelope, in both good and bad ways.

    Thanks for your comment.


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