Genre: Adult Thriller
Publisher: ECW Press
Release date: Now available
Source: Paperback from author
In a word: An unexpectedly dark and bloody tale, filled with unlikable yet sympathy-inducing characters, an over-the-top plot and pitch perfect dialog.
I was not sure what to expect when I started reading Poison Shy, but it had some amazing blurbs on the back of the book, and I was looking forward to seeing if they were true. I’m thrilled to say those blurbs are spot on, and I spent a thoroughly enjoyable four hours inhaling it on the drive back from my vacation a few days ago. Madden’s writing is spare and to the point, and his dialog is snappy and realistic, and fits the tone of this all too brief story perfectly.
The story is told from Brandon Galloway’s point of view, a twenty-nine year old unmotivated and directionless man who can’t seem to escape the dreary small Canadian town of Fraynes. He’s just started working for an extermination company called Kill ‘Em All and is simply happy to have a regular job. But one day his uneventful life comes unhinged when he and co-worker Chad get a call to rid an apartment of bed bugs. There he meets the beautiful but unsettling Melanie and her unstable roommate Darcy. Brandon is instantly attracted to the sexually alluring Melanie, but his low self-esteem prevents him from asking her out. So he does the next best thing: he begins to stalk her. After an “accidental” encounter at her college library, he snags a date with her, and that’s when the real trouble starts.
As they begin an awkward relationship, the aggressively overprotective Darcy manages to thwart Brandon’s every plan to spend time with Melanie, and with the help of lots of booze and just plain bad luck, Brandon’s life is about to sink further into the toilet than it already is.
If you’re looking for lovable characters, then Poison Shy probably isn’t the book for you. Madden takes the idea of character flaws to a whole new level. Melanie in particular is brash and at times disgusting, and she tends to act like one of the boys whenever she’s hanging out with Darcy. She sleeps around, drinks a lot, and is a truly annoying character. I found it hard to believe that Brandon could be attracted to her at all. Yet Melanie has something that makes Brandon keep coming back for more, despite a very scary roommate who threatens to beat him up. Finally, at the end of the book, Madden paints Melanie in a whole new light, one that makes the reader sympathize with her, if only for a brief moment.
Brandon himself is a typical loser-type, which made me like him from the start. And let’s face it, he’s got a lot on his plate. His aging mother is a religious fanatic who is slowly losing her mind. His new job as an exterminator exposes him to poisonous chemicals on a daily basis, and his odd relationship with Melanie and Darcy isn’t proving to be healthy either. But even though he lets Melanie walk all over him, you can see him change as the story progresses. The Brandon at the end of the book is a guy that isn’t going to take shit from anyone, anymore.
Despite the violence and generally raunchiness, Poison Shy has its poignant moments. I especially loved the scenes between Brandon and his mother, a sad woman who carries around an unwashed security blanket. You can tell Brandon loves her even as she’s losing her mind.
Madden’s over-the-top plot starts out almost pedestrian, as Brandon tries to settle into a new job, make new friends, and get closer to the beautiful Melanie. But as one thing leads to another, his life begins to spiral out of control, and quickly. The author implies on page two that the story isn’t going to end well, and so the reader expects the violent parts of the story. I especially loved the details that give the story the extra layer that I’m always looking for. For example, Brandon has a baseball bat from his childhood that he’s named Red Hot, and it has its own back-story. The bat, which starts out as a sentimental object, figures into some of the dark action at the end. After all, if you’re going to show the audience the gun in Act 1, you damn well better use it by Act 3. Well done, Mr. Madden!
Much of the book centers around a local pub called The Bloody Paw, a seedy joint with gruesome photos of dead or injured animals on its walls. It works as a framework for the story, since many significant events happen there, including a worrisome relationship between Melanie and the owner of the bar, a man name Viktor Lozowsky. Though I won’t tell you how things wrap up, a shockingly violent scene near the end caught me off guard. But after thinking it over, I realized it was perfectly suited for this crazy story about how one’s life can go swiftly downhill if you meet and associate with the wrong types of people.
My only worry about this book is that I think it’s priced too high. Amazon charges $9.99 for the digital version, and the slim (only 160 pages) paperback has a whopping $18.95 list price. The publisher (who is Canadian, and that may factor into the cost) does a bang-up production job—it’s a high quality book in every way—but I’m not sure your average reader is going to want to pay so much.
But I hope you do! Poison Shy was a happy surprise, and Stacey Madden has an awesome future as a writer, in my opinion. Like a horrible accident scene caught in the glare of an oncoming car’s headlight, Poison Shy is an inescapable, in-your-face look at the tawdry lives of ordinary people.