April 6, 2012

Rabid Reads: "Cuckoo" by Richard Wright

Cuckoo
by Richard Wright
278 pages
self-published (2011)
previously published by Razorblade Press (2002)
ISBN-13: 9781463762032

When you pick up a book titled Cuckoo, unless you know before opening to page one that it's a horror novel, you are not likely expecting a darkly disturbing and mind-bending freakshow. Then again, maybe you are, and if you are then I'd have to say it's because you're familiar with Richard Wright's work.

Gregory Summers is a grade-A prick. He's married man with a loving wife at home, but he's compelled to cheat on her, and it's during one of his nights out with his mistress that his world is turned upside-down. He takes her to a hotel and finds there is no reservation under his usual fake name, or even his real name for that matter. Things get progressively stranger from there, because when he finally returns his home his wife is with another man--a man named Gregory Summers. It seems that everyone in the world is convinced that Gregory Summers is another man entirely, the very man who is now living his life, Stewart Jameson.

Actually, there is one person who seems to recognize Greg for who he really is, and that happens to be his mistress, who was with him the night things started going very, very wrong. With her, and the friendly hotel manager who finds himself compelled to believe Greg's fantastical story through a couple of key observances, Greg strives to find out the truth of who is targeting him and how they've managed to steal his life away from him.

This all might sound rather quaint by horror standards, less horrific and more Hitchcockian in tone perhaps, but the interludes that occur every few chapters or so really make the weird feel weirder and the dark feel darker. A man is encased in a tank of fluid that is eating away at him, and the pieces of him that are deteriorating are being consumed. Given the psychological nature of the story, it doesn't become terribly clear how these scenes are connected to the main storyline, but when they do it adds to the gruesomeness of the novel.

It took a while for me to get into this story. It might have been due to disliking the character of Greg and not sympathizing with him, but as I kept with it and the stakes became higher and the mystery starting to really ramp up, I found myself getting into more. The horrific elements came sporadically and suddenly, which offered a jarring effect as I read. Maybe intentional, maybe not, but I thought it was pretty effective either way. There was some passages that felt a bit drawn out, usually when there was a lull in the otherwise tense mood of the book, but the psychotropic elements of the story kept me engaged.

I'm not going to give anything away more than that, but I will say the ending wasn't as impactful as I'd expected, or rather my reaction was more ambivalent. I imagine readers will have varied opinions with that and the story as a whole. It's a creepy tale with a twist on the whole lost identity trope I found refreshingly original. Worth taking a chance on if you go for those kinds of psychological horror stories.

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