BLACK HEART BOYS' CHOIR required a bit of time on my part for everything to sink in. Once it did, I felt liking shouting BRAVO and throwing some roses at the author. A friend took me aside and told me this was frowned upon, so I decided to write this review instead.
Lucien has recently lost his father to suicide. Shortly after that, he loses his mother to grief, (among other things.) To top it all off, he and his mother are required to move from their rather posh house, to a humbler home in a condominium. He is full of anger and disgust-with himself, and his weak parents. He begins hearing music in his head, as well as voices, and shortly thereafter he discovers a piece of orchestration that his father began to write but never finished. He sets out to quiet those voices and the music-will he be triumphant? You'll have to read this to find out!
I became a fan of Curtis Lawson last year and immediately bought another of his books when I finished the first. (I haven't been able to get to it yet-story of my life.) However, when he offered me a chance to read this one early, how could I say no? At first, I was a bit confused as to what was going on, and to be honest, I wondered if this novel was going to require some kind of musical knowledge or at least the ability to read music. I needn't have feared, since all that was required was close attention on my part. That wasn't hard to give because the narrative soon swept me up and carried me to the denouement, much like a wave at the beach carries you to shore.
Why did I need time to mull over this story? I can mention some of the reasons here, some I cannot because...spoilers. Lucien was not altogether likable, even before some of the more distasteful events occurred. Luckily, I'm okay with real people being the main character-meaning in real life, people are not all good or bad, so why do some expect that in their fiction? Another reason I needed to mull for a moment is mental illness. (Lucien reminded me a lot of a young man I knew who suffered from Schizophrenia.) In the end, this tale broke another way, but somehow I came away from it with a better understanding of the young man I once knew. (Or at least, I think I did.)
As a whole, BLACK HEART BOYS' CHOIR tackles a lot in its few pages: suicide, death, abuse, neglect, teen friendships, (and many of us know the friendships made during that difficult time in life are hard to break), resentments, music, mental illness (?), demons...well, you get the picture.
Hopefully, you now understand my reasons for mulling over this tale. I believe I will be thinking about it for quite some time. These are generally the types of stories that stick with me-the mull-ers. If what I've described above sounds good to you and if you enjoy thinking about a story long after it's finished, then I highly recommend BLACK HEART BOYS' CHOIR!
“The end of the world, as it expresses itself at this place and in this time, is set to music. My choir sings as one, and bodies fall all around us, each a universe unto itself, now forever extinguished.” – Curtis M. Lawson, Black Heart Boys’ Choir
I love horror. I love music. When Curtis Lawson put a call out for reviewers, I couldn’t turn down this synopsis. Music is as wide and varied as the horror genre and I think there just isn’t enough musical horror out there. Recently I’ve read Scapegoat and We Sold Our Souls as well as a few others, but I need MORE. I’ve read a few of Lawson’s short stories in anthologies like Doorbells at Dusk, so it really was an immediate “YES” from me.
Lucien Beaumont is not a nice kid. Frankly, I detested him most of the time while still being utterly fascinated with his horrible thoughts and actions. He comes off as entitled, tortured, and just a bit of a jerk to most people. There are redeeming qualities though. Lawson manages to strike a fine balance between making him unbelievably contemptuous and just heartbreakingly real. He suffers a massive loss and may be suffering from some form of mental illness, but I am not 100% sure on this. His parents, while somewhat present, aren’t exactly paradigms of good behavior. I believe this is treated well. I think the appearance of a Duke of Hell in the form of an evil unicorn may be enough to make anyone behave unusually.
Set in a local public school, I worried that the scenes between the teenagers would feel unreal or contrived. I have a good amount of experience with the behaviors and problems of today’s teenagers. After reading it, I’m wondering how Lawson managed to get this setting and the side characters just right. The “stereotypes” one might think of do exist in some form. The popular and talented girl, the jock with something to prove, the friend to everyone who just wants to get along, and the kids who are mislabeled as “trouble-makers” and seen as “other”. I think the author nails it.
Note: don’t think that because this book has a cast of mostly teenaged characters and is set within a school that it doesn’t deliver the darkness. It is brutal and unapologetic. There are moments when I wasn’t exactly sure what was happening, when the fabric of reality bent a little for me as the reader. The author writes beautifully and has a way of explaining what is happening. He takes it just to the point of understanding and then lets the reader take it the rest of the way.
There is a mystery to be uncovered within these pages and it felt as if I made these discoveries right along with Lucien. There were moments when I HATED being inside this characters head; I felt almost complicit in some of the crimes he committed. But it wasn’t too much. I let go and enjoyed the ride – I needed to see how this all ended up.
Be sure to check this one out. And if you hear of any compelling combinations of music and horror – let me know.