Monday, June 27, 2016
Lucid Nightmare Horror: A Review of Creeping Waves
Horror fans are going absolutely apeshit over this book—and for good reason.
Imagine a literary collaboration between H.P. Lovecraft and William S. Burroughs. Imagine a meeting of folk horror and unbridled hallucinatory surrealism. Imagine an ancient witch-cult using a New England radio station to infect and commandeer the minds of its listeners. Imagine raving insanity and repellent gore. Imagine a writing style so offbeat that you find yourself questioning the author’s sanity.
This is Matthew M. Bartlett’s Creeping Waves.
Creeping Waves is the sequel to Bartlett’s 2014 masterwork Gateways to Abomination (acclaimed weird-horror author Scott Nicolay rightly hailed Gateways as “the most important collection of 2014”). Both books are comprised of vignettes—short stories, flash pieces, epistolary slices, and “historical” fragments—that detail a supernatural onslaught of epic proportions in the town of Leeds, Massachusetts. Much of Creeping Waves’ content, like that of its predecessor, revolves around the radio station 87.9 WXXT, the present-day project of a centuries-old witch cult seeking to, uhhh, takeover Leeds? The world? Institute Hell on Earth? It’s actually unclear what WXXT & Co.’s endgame is, but it’s part of what makes the book(s) great. There’s a puzzle-like quality to understanding the “big picture” in both Creeping Waves and Gateways. To engage these collections is to descend into a deep, dark rabbit hole brimming with nerve-shredding phantasmagoria beyond your wildest imaginings. I’ve read both books; I still haven’t pieced it all together. The WXXT universe is a labyrinthine abyss filled with goatmen, sinister artifacts, mountains of insect larvae, wilderness orgies, “Thursday Night Death Jazz,” and old-fashioned murder. Much like in the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, the forces of malevolence exist and operate, largely, just outside the scope of human comprehension. Let me warn you: Bartlett’s writing will get under your skin. It will make you feel deeply unwell.
And, to reiterate, Bartlett really pushes the envelope on style, structure, and form. Do not expect any prototypical horror prose from the man. Some of the characters are recurrent, yes, but many are only fleeting. This book isn’t really about characters. It isn’t about plot either. It’s a lucid 266-page nightmare on paper. All bets are off when it comes to literary conventions. Bartlett's got guts. He's that rare once-in-a-generation author with a mold-breaking creative vision and the chops to put it to paper. I can’t commend Creeping Waves enough for its unapologetic literary rule-smashing.
So, if you’ve so much as Googled this book, you already know people are shrieking its praises.
Believe the hype—it’s all very justified.
My recommendation: Pick up a copy of Creeping Waves.
And for those new to Bartlett's work, pick up Gateways to Abomination and Creeping Waves. Take a long trip to Leeds. Tune in to WXXT. Get lost in the woods. Join an ancient witch-cult. Read the books in order. Dive headlong into Bartlett’s diabolical nightmare universe. Embrace the future of horror.