October 17, 2009
Rabid Reads "The Night Class" by Tom Piccirilli
Title: The Night Class
Author: Tom Piccirilli
Publisher: Leisure Books (2002)
Caleb Prentiss--Cal for short, and never call him Calvin--is a senior at university, back from Christmas vaction, and disturbed to a whole new level at the news a fellow student, Sylvia Campbell, was murdered in gruesome fashion in his very dorm room. No worries, though. The news of it has barely registered beyond a whisper on campus, as if it never even happened.
The bloodstains have been hidden under a coat of peach-colored paint, but it's still noticable to him, and the stench impales his sense of smell. The whole thing eats away at him, especially how no one else on campus seems to give a damn. As Cal's mind wasn't taxed enough with a diminishing acedemic regimen this year, a girlfriend (Jodi) with more emotional baggage than your favorite angst-ridden perfectionist, buddies with greater aspirations towards sleep, drink, and getting laid than anything else, and growing hostilities with his professors. Yup, all that and a wicked case of stigmata, where his palms bleed--just the palms, though--through spontaneously conjured impalements every time someone close to him dies. And people are dying.
The story starts off with a somewhat disjointed narrative, as Cal's point of view jumps from one moment in time to another for a couple of chapters. It kept me off balance for a while until I caught the pulse of the story. This wasn't a run of the mill "horny kids get killed on campus" horror novel. And I'm thankful for that because I can only stomach so many of those in a decade. One part eery, another part surreal, and a few other parts I'm not quite sophisticated enough to identify, the story takes on a tone that's anything but bourgeois.
The supporting characters, at times, come off as lampoons of the archetype characters you meet in universities. I didn't really mind, since there was such a stark and razor-sharp quality to the situations they found themselves in, and Cal's macabre and piercing observation only added to the scenes. I had moments where I didn't know if I was coming or going with this story. Usually that irritates the piss out of me, but it worked this time around.
The ending, which I don't want to spoil in any sense, was a bit of a ... I don't want to say letdown ... a bit of an anticlimactic end of an otherwise absorbing story. I suppose, given the subject matter and overall pace and feel of the story, a certain amount of ambiguity was called for. I just would have liked something more ceremonious to bow out on, but that's just me.
Given Tom Piccirilli is credited with writing crime novels and westerns, and God knows what else, I'm going to have to find something else of his to sample. Because if this is how he approaches horror, I look forward to seeing how he tackles the other genres.