April 28, 2014

Big God on Campus: a review of Nicole Cushing's "I Am the New God"

I Am the New God
by Nicole Cushing
DarkFuse (2014)

College can be trying enough, but it's exponentially harder when your roommate is a psychopath. During my second year of college, I wound up sharing an apartment with a couple fellas who each turned out to be a couple fries short of a Happy Meal. Their ... eccentricities--a diplomatic word if ever their was one--escalated over the months to the point that I had to move out for my own safety and warn the landlord she might not be safe either. Fun stuff.

As insane as those two were, they pale compared to the escalating mania of Nicole Cushing's protagonist, Gregory Bryce. In the beginning, he's doing well in college, after a stint in a mental health facility, but after receiving a string of letters from a mysterious idolater claiming Gregory is destined to become the new god.

Always nice to receive an ego stroke, but quite another to be revered by a total stranger as a deity. Gregory dismisses it at first, but as he reveals he has stopped taking his medication, he begins to take the correspondence seriously, eventually replying and thus inviting a downward spiral into madness as he pursues the idea of becoming a god.

While the story progresses with a clear psychological thriller bent, there is the underlying and quite surreal notion that Gregory is not insane, but may actually be a god in the making. It's not overwhelming, but given Cushing's flare for turning the mundane on its head with her writing, that disturbing possibility stands in the shadows like a bogeyman.

The switching each chapter between Gregory and his would-be acolyte offers a fun juxtaposition to the escalating madness. As tensions grow and Gregory's mania worsens, the language deteriorates a little bit, too. Purposeful in highlighting Gregory's mindset, sure, but there are passages that are a bit of a slog on account of it.

Nicole Cushing really knows how to weave the weird into an unassuming character. She did it last year with Children of No One, and has done it again with I Am the New God. If she wasn't already a horror writer to watch in the coming years, she is now.

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