After the success of Joseph D'Lacey's disturbing debut MEAT (also reviewed by me for GUD Magazine), his second novel, Garbage Man, was bound to come out to high expectations. So high, perhaps, that no book could live up to them.
The people living near the RefuSec Waste Management landfill don't pay it much attention. After all, they have their own problems to wrestle with--frustrated ambition, a damaged connection with the Earth, sexual deviancy. But is the landfill as indifferent? Or is it churning humanity's waste into a strange new form of life?
Garbage Man has strong plot elements--a mysterious, shaman-like figure called Mason Brand who communes with the local landfill, a young woman prepared to do anything to escape her "boring, boring, boring" life, another woman tormented by dreams of a "razor-baby" that endlessly searches, endlessly suffers, and is endlessly silent, and, brooding over all, the filth and waste of the dump.
D'Lacey is clearly determined to eschew the errors made by so many Horror novels that offer the mutilation and death of characters we know nothing about and care for less. Half of Garbage Man is dedicated to introducing its characters, to inviting the reader to learn their failings and their flaws, to sympathise with their attempts to overcome the sheer dull nastiness of their lives. Yet somehow it doesn't work. The characters don't come alive on the page.
This despite some solidly creepy writing, especially in the dream sequences.
"The knives enter the baby's body easily, as though it were made of fresh cake. They slide in deep. Deep enough to stay. The baby pauses, turns. Some of the longer knives have passed right through it. She sees the points poking downward from its chest as it screams. She can't hear the screaming. She only feels it, deep inside, her spirit being murdered by the baby's pain."
The first half of the book disappoints. There's almost too much introduction, too much following the characters around while they prepare, unwittingly, for their own annihilation. After a while, even the tormented baby loses its impact. If it's going to go on its agonizing search forever, the reader has to distance themselves, has to put up barriers to interminable, hopeless pain.
When the landfill comes unexpectedly, vehemently alive, the novel picks up as if this is what it's been waiting for. There are daring escapes across rooftops. There are people trapped in buildings, trembling as they await their fate. And there are some of the strangest monsters Horror has ever brought forth.
"She didn't know what it was. It had no name. It had five 'arms' which it used as legs. It was fashioned of junk and animal parts and filth. It dragged a long fat body and left a wet trail of excrement on her carpet. A long-bodied spider without enough legs to move properly...its eyes were the loops from the handles of scissors. Its teeth were the ends of dozens of knitting needles."
Gratifyingly, Garbage Man turns into an exciting, scary, highly-imaginative Horror novel about halfway through. It's worth reading the first part to get to the second. D'Lacey has the chops to scare and disgust the reader, whether they care about the characters or not.