Review 8/5/12

Puppet Graveyard by Tim Curran

When Kitty Seevers receives a package containing only a lock of her missing sister's hair and an address, she sets out on a journey to discover the truth. She will soon uncover an evil more twisted than she could've imagined.

I expected this to be a fun, creepy novella—I was interested to see Curran's take on the familiar possessed ventriloquist dummy trope. And there was a brief goose bump moment, early on. Unfortunately, I cannot praise much else in Puppet Graveyard. The story is clich├ęd, with slapdash writing, nothing to endear me to it and much to attract my ire.

The characters are flat and stereotypical. Kitty is a blank female horror-flick role, and Curran delves into her history both too superficially and too late to cement any attachment to a character who possesses few endearing traits. We end up being told what she thinks and feels without any idea what makes her tick. Despite ostensibly being intelligent (her success is supposedly hard-won, and though we know a new job awaits her, it is never touched on what exactly she does) Kitty acts with remarkable stupidity. Her logic remains strange throughout the text, but we aren't given the necessary history and personality to understand the character, let alone sympathize with her. In the first chapter, Kitty considers going to the police upon receipt of her sister's hair, but is sure they will blow her off as they did when she reported her missing. I see no reason for this inference, no matter how the police treated her—a missing person without evidence is one thing; a lock of her hair sent to a family member and a solid lead? Quite another.

It is only toward the middle of the text we are given a little detail about Kitty's beautiful sister Gloria, and are told of Kitty's intense jealousy toward her pretty (but wonderfully kind) sibling—a detail which has nothing to do with the plot, and indeed only confuses the story since not only is Kitty pretty (if in a more normal sense than her perfect sister—poor Kitty has to shave her legs!), Gloria's professed perfection undermines the plot—we are told Gloria's beauty "opened every door", and yet she was last seen as the assistant of a creepy ventriloquist act in a dive lounge.

To make bad worse, the storytelling fails to make up for the lack of characterization. Besides an episode where Kitty endures a number of dirty jokes from the ventriloquist dummy and the climax, we learn most of the story's details through boring exposition as Kitty sits listening to paternalistic men tell her mostly hearsay anecdotes. I had hopes that in spite of the numerous objections I had, the ending would twist the tale and allow me to wring enjoyment from this novella, but not only did I wince as it became obvious that it was building to its inevitable and ordinary climax, I was disgusted to find our heroine rescued from the big baddie by a man, again another failure to stray from standard horror fare. The novella is full of that classical horror paternalism and borders on misogynistic—right down to a rape which adds nothing to the plot or motivation—described in a way too graphic to be comic—once again, Curran misses the opportunity to give Kitty much needed depth. Her reaction is woefully inaccurate, and what should have been a devastating act changes nothing in the story arc. Remove the rape, and nothing, not the story or Kitty's reactions, would change.

My generous concession is that Puppet Graveyard could be intended as a pastiche of classic bad horror—but it misses the mark by a wide margin, regardless, failing to produce the necessary humor and I find it difficult to believe it was the author's intention. All and all, the tale is shallow and predictable, full of haphazard, pedestrian writing, and lacks any coherent character motivation or novelty. Unfortunately, I am singularly disappointed with this book.

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