Book Review : Damien Angelica Walters - Paper Tigers (2016)
I am generally perceived by authors and readership alike to be a rather critical reviewer and this baffles me. I'm a great audience. I am always eager to work with books/movies/series and I can appreciate a piece for what it is. You know who's a tough cookie? My girlfriend Josie. She's a great reader who can also appreciate any genre, but she's got STANDARDS with capital letters. We've both read Damien Angelica Walters' debut novel Paper Tigers during out flash vacation last week and we were both equally awed and terrified by it. It's a gripping, melancholic novel that achieved some kind of Bushido-level of atmospheric terror. Both a can't miss for horror freaks and literary fans.
Alison Reese was horribly burned on half of her body during a tragic fire. She seems to break out of the claustrophobic nightmare her life has become the day she finds the courage to leave her apartment to walk the streets of Baltimore, where she lives. That day, she bought an old photo album in an antiques shop which she quickly becomes obsessed about, giving the photographed people names and everything. When she starts hearing echoes of laughter and clinking glasses when browsing the album, Alison starts questioning her own sanity. But there's more to it than just her. The album can make her whole again, or can it?
Paper Tigers is a subtle, graceful and multilayered horror novel. I wouldn't pigeonhole it into a particular subgenre because it seamlessly blends many: ghost stories, psychological horror, supernatural, body horror and there even is a killer Cronenbergian moment towards the ending. Doing on paper what nightmares consultant David Cronenberg did in movies is extremely difficult and often comes off as goofy, but Damien Angelica Walters gets away with it in Paper Tigers because of the strength of her tone and atmosphere. In fact, it's as (or more) terrifying as the rest of this freakin' book and Paper Tigers scared the living hell out of me.
What makes Paper Tigers special though is that it's NOT JUST a horror novel. Damien Angelica Walters had bigger ambitions for her book and wrote a narrative that lived up to it. Alison Reese's existential ordeal is tragic and engaging: is being disfigured, lonely and in pain really a way to live your life? Are you really living or simply existing? What makes Alison such a terrific protagonist is that she's pretty ghostly herself. She's a disembodied spirit living in a prison of tortured flesh she perceives as monstrous. Reality and the person she has become through the fire are sometimes scarier to her than a ghost she doesn't know whether or not is real. Alison is sweet and vulnerable, but her obsessive longing for healing makes her terrifying in her own right.
There really isn't much I disliked about Paper Tigers, but I wouldn't leave you guys without slipping a word about the astonishing quality of Damien Angelica Walters' prose. Man, that lady can WRITE. Her prose is blooming with powerful and original images which are partly responsible for creating the rich and haunting atmosphere of Paper Tigers. It was tough singling out a passage for quotation because Walters deals in long sentences and complex imagery, so you're going to have to take my word for it. This is one of the most transcendent achievements in prose I've had the privilege to read this year. Whether you order Paper Tigers now or keep it for a memorably Halloween scare, brace yourselves for some REAL horror. Damien Angelica Walters doesn't deal in cheap peek-a-boo scared. She wants you soul.
BADASS (and Josie approved)