When someone writes repeated reviews of books by the same author, it seems like it would get difficult after a while finding things to say. Or so you’d think. But that isn’t necessarily true. I’ve read a large portion of author Philip Fracassi’s body of published work, starting with the incredibly dark and disturbing Altar and progressing on through Fragile Dreams, and most recently, his mind-altering collection, Behold the Void. And the thing that’s been true of every one of these books is that it isn’t hard to figure out what to say about them so much as it is deciding what not to say about them. Fracassi’s work evokes so many different reactions, it sometimes feels as if there’s a new and astonishing revelation with every turn of the page. That statement couldn’t be truer of his newest novella from Journalstone, Sacculina.
I’m going to make a prediction here: Philip Fracassi will one day be one of the best and most well-known horror authors working in the genre. What makes me say this? Because there’s a fine distinction between the merely good and that which is great. Good writers consistently produce acceptable fiction. Great ones get consistently and exponentially better with every story they write. Fracassi is well entrenched in that second category and he’ll eventually be recognized on a level with such greats as Laird Barron and Stephen Graham Jones. Watch and see.
One of the things that makes Philip Fracassi’s work resonate so strongly with his readers is that it’s always different. He tends to shy away from familiar tropes, endlessly experimenting and inventing, weaving his tales dark, original, and unforgettable. He’s incessantly creative and curious and it shines through in all his stories, but possibly none so intensely as Sacculina, in which we meet our protagonist, Jim, as he embarks on an ocean charter with his father Henry and his brother Jack. Jim is an introspective character with a brooding persona and it’s largely through his inner world that we discover the trappings of his physical one and learn of events that brought them to this stage. Fracassi is a master wordsmith and he wastes no time getting his story moving, in the process exposing his dark side to us almost immediately:
“Life was a merciless thief with a black heart, and you hoped it passed you by when scouting for its next victim. Jim knew life had visited their home more than once and didn’t think the old man could take another calling.”
This poetry of darkness is Fracassi’s primary trademark. He paints his word pictures in shades of grey, blue, and black, with periodic splashes of vivid blood-red. He’s an incomparable wordsmith with a flare for subtlety laced with periodic and shockingly sudden flare-ups of violent and terrifying action.
Fracassi doesn’t base his stories on violence or bloodshed, though there’s often plenty to go around. In every story he writes, the focus is on the humanity. It’s what makes his books work so well. He’s a master of character interaction and dialogue driven action that wouldn’t be near as exciting or vivid were it not for the exchanges. It’s also one of the things that make his work so horrifying. His people jump off the page in three-dimensional clarity, making you care about them deeply and dragging you along, a willing captive on this charter straight out of hell or, at the very least, the darkest depths of the ocean.
But, as with any of Philip Fracassi’s work, don’t get too attached to anyone. He’s more than willing to kill his darlings and nobody’s safe in this seafaring nightmare that left me asking, “what fresh hell does he draw these ideas from?” He has a brilliant and unique mind and a penchant for creativity and originality that is unsurpassed in this or any other genre, and he delivers his terrors with a literary flare and a lyric voice that lulls his readers into a sort of submissive daze:
“After a grueling hour Jim would not soon forget, the boat settled in the area the captain had sold them on. Once the engine cut and the fumes cleared, Jim agreed the water did seem calmer than what they had cut through during the last hour. It was a rich, heavy blue, and if he looked down at it long enough, he thought he could make out the black void in lie beneath their relatively microscopic vessel, the deep cold water resting just outside the sun’s reach.”
But that submissive daze is really a well-disguised literary masterstroke on Fracassi’s part. What he’s really doing is very subtly building tension and suspense in such a way that, by the time all hell breaks loose it’s akin to an overwound clock spring giving way, a gushing and far from subtle rush of blood to the head and terror to the heart.
Over the short course of a single year Philip Fracassi has become one of my top five go-to authors when I’m looking for pure escapism and masterful storytelling. He ramps up the entertainment value–and the fear factor–page by page, taking his reader on a journey of imagination and unfathomable horror that could only come from the well of his dark thoughts. If you’re looking for a perfect summer read, you need look no further than the work of this brilliant and rising star in the firmament of horror fiction, and Sacculina is the book you should read first. Soon. But do block out some time for this blazing fast read because once you pick it up, there’s no putting it down again.