Juniper - by Ross Jeffrey Book Review
Juniper, by Ross Jefferey, is a very well laid out horror story, very easy and quick to read, due to the fact that the debut (at the time) author focused on his two female characters as the driving force behind the book. That attention to two very different female identities – one a young abuse victim, the other an aging widow who had also suffered abuse as a child, makes the subjectively bizarre scenario they find themselves in real, tangible, and moving. But let’s come to that a little later. Let’s take a look at the craft Jeffery brings to the game.
The set up of a village in the middle of nowhere is key in providing the backdrop to the bizarre situation the novel revolves around – namely - cats as a food source. Now that kind of setup requires a prolific amount of believability – and Jeffrey solves this by taking his time to describe the town, or rather, the situation of the town of Juniper. It takes a full 10-15 % of the book to just describe the dry, harsh, barren land that is Juniper. That kind of attack on the senses is a very hard thing to do – to describe the heat and bareness of a place and take a full tenth of the book to do it, and not lose your reader, is a mark of the voice Jeffery brings to the fore. He has a flair for description, at that without losing the interest of the reader is nothing less than remarkable.
Having established just how desperate things are for the town, and how stubborn and sturdy – almost tick-like – the inhabitants of the town are, it is then not a huge leap to start to believe the ridiculous lengths the townsfolk go to in order to survive. That a young woman starts breeding cats as a viable food source becomes “eccentric”, but amusingly believable. That acceptance is the core of what Jeffery did so well because he then layers on another layer of distraction that is the key element to the whole novella.
And unfortunately, I saw it coming.
Now in the book’s defense, I don’t think many readers will have expected the deception. But I am unfortunately a massive fan of Iain M.Banks, and particularly, of his book “Use of Weapons”, possibly the only book to have fooled me so deviously, so utterly, so amazingly, I read the book again, and it changed the entire book, and that deception is burned into my brain to never believe what an author is telling me. To try and see what they aren’t telling me, and to realize what the author is trying to make me believe all by myself.
So, it’s a nice try, but yeah. The wording never said out loud the correct term for the thing (trying not to spoil it all too much) so that triggered my doubt, and when the trip to the library and back provided the clue, I was waiting from that point on for confirmation. Nevertheless – it was adroitly done and being in on the act allowed me to admire the craft employed in the deception instead. I guess I can say “Blame Iain” for that one.
Let’s come back to what Ross (excuse the familiarity here, I can only say Jeffery so often) has constructed though, because not only has he made an entire village believable, he populated it with characters that push the narrative, and quite rightly, he has chosen women to tell the story. Janet and Betty couldn’t be more different from each other, and I wanted to take a look at their setup.
I made a note at the 15% mark that I was getting worried with the portrayal of violence – there are graphic descriptions of abuse, in particular cigarette burns and beatings. It is raw, and Jeffery doesn’t pull his punches, but I have to say in Ross’ defense that the abuse was a requirement to show how desperate Janet’s situation had become. The second scene of abuse is much less graphic, though equally aggressive, and comes later in the novel after we have firmly established that it is not the norm, that the relationship between the two women and their predicaments are the driving force behind the book. And that is what sells the book.
The ending is pretty much a violent horror film visual, a monster that will just not die, and layer upon layer of attack and counter-attack, but by then we are fully invested in seeing the bastard burn. So it provides the required gore and brutality.
Did I squirm at the Betty/ Tom surgery?
So. To sum up, I liked this book. Yes, I saw the twist, but my enjoyment of the book was a much the storytelling as the twist. It is a great debut, the flow was phenomenal, and Ross has firmly established his place at the table, bringing his own blend of brutal honesty to play.
I'm giving it 4 stars because it does have triggers here that are integral to the story, but which I would have loved to have not seen? If that makes sense? The burning I would have said could have been covered in retrospect. Betty shows hers, we don't live through her trauma.
Can’t wait for Tome, the follow on, which I’m about to start tonight after I have convinced my testicles to drop once more from wherever they have risen. It might take some time.