Almost Ruth - by Tyler Jones
Updated: Jan 7
Tyler Jones’ Debut novel (hard to believe that “Criterium” and “The dark side of the room” only qualify as novellas – they are so emotionally and poetically rich, the books seem weighted and thicker than novellas) powers onto the horror scene in the best ways, keeping up the trends his novellas have become known for – Wonderfully rendered covers (this one from Gemma Amor), emotionally poignant stories, exemplary character work, and storytelling that is in a field of its own. This is Emotional Horror. This is Tyler Jones.
The novel is outstanding. It is a rollercoaster ride of grief and loss, of watching someone you love fade away in front of you, of being consumed by guilt and the lengths you will go to refuse to let a lost person go. Tyler’s analogy of the villagers holding onto the hope of hearing loved ones speak again, by chipping pieces of their gravestones off and dropping them into a mysterious void in the nearby forest, compares to memories of loved ones, and how memories fade, how you lose pieces of them tiny portion by portion into the void of memory loss, and how by doing that they are truly set free, hits hard. That desperate longing for the chance, even if for seconds only, to regain what you have lost… It’s heartbreaking.
Abel, the main character, is so wonderfully written, so driven by his grief for both his daughter and the oncoming loss of his wife, Ruth, that the reader breaks apart alongside him, thanks to the beautifully rendered poetic narrative. Tyler spares us no relief from Abel’s loss, no thought, no self-recrimination. Abel believes wholeheartedly that the oncoming death of his wife is his fault, the burden of her dying rests solely on his shoulders, and therefore on ours. It’s soul-destroying, and exactly where you want to be – cocooned in a world so wonderfully crafted you never want to leave.
Almost Ruth is a tour-de-force of guilt and grief. The character work is sublime, each character is given time to shine and become real in our eyes. The stand-out line in the entire book illustrates perfectly the theme of the book:
Fill each moment with meaning, because we all go alone into the alone.
It’s like a smack to the face. It’s an insight one can only achieve whilst living with the oncoming inevitability of death.
The novel smacks the reader from the get-go, with such a powerful opening scene, that you are so engrossed in the book you never want to stop. The world-building here, the research, the rules of burial – it’s just sublime. The first burial, the rules governing that particular type of burial – it’s a detail nerd's heaven, the level of thought given to it – superb work.
The violence when it arrives, is sudden and raw, the ending of the book satisfying. This is a book I will be rereading, and Tyler fully deserves to be on the Stoker Recommended reading list for First novel. I’ll be off to do exactly that as soon as I’m done convincing you all to read this book. Now.
Top 5 of the books I have read this year, even better than Criterium (man, that hurt to write, Tyler, I had that in the top 5 too).
An outstanding exploration of grief and suffering. Emotional horror at its finest.
5 out of 5 ⭐’s.
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