Book Review: "Grey Skies" by William Becker (2019)
It’s said that everyone’s Hell is different. I’ve always liked that description (as opposed to that banal old fire and brimstone bullshit) because it’s just logical. Any Supreme Being worth his or her salt should be creative enough to torture with the fruits of your dark labors, after all. It only makes sense. This is the premise that young William Becker’s second novel, Grey Skies, operates under to wonderful (if not muddled) effect.
Roman Toguri is a man in the middle of a very bad situation. He finds the body of a nun, horribly slashed, outside of a church in the pouring rain. He doesn’t know what happened to her or what to do with her. He attempts to bury her, but the rain makes it impossible. His next brilliant idea is to take her back to his place and bury her (an admittedly poor choice). His head is as big of a mess as the situation he’s in. Powerful hallucinations lead Roman down a rabbit hole of dark tunnels, both literal and figurative, and face to face with the evil deeds of his bloody past. While it’s clear that Roman is no saint, the question remains: is Roman Toguri not just a killer but THE killer? Is he being pursued by demonic forces? What the fuck is up with that giant Sack Doll? What happened to his wife and son that’s so difficult for him to face?
William Becker is only 18 years old. That is in no way said as a disclaimer; he has a penchant for the surreal side of darkness and a vocabulary to match. His prose drives hard and fast; at times it’s almost too fast. He clearly feels what he’s writing and does a solid job of putting you under that same spell. The narrative thread of Grey Skies is murky and hard to follow at times, but it’s damn sure never boring. The imagery is striking and dreamlike, from the Sack Doll monster to the recurring clusters of spiders and use of claustrophobia and mannequins. Mannequins are always creepy as hell.
While Roman could use more fleshing out as either protagonist or antagonist (seeing as he plays both parts), he’s nonetheless a strong character. The locations and predicaments he finds himself in are easy to visualize and roll with thanks to Becker’s style. Grey Skies is often too much of an assault, but this is horror and it’s not necessarily designed to go easy on you. In regards to feeling the panic and mounting confusion/revelation of Roman, Grey Skies is a damn fine read. There’s no letup on the intensity, for better or worse.
The extremely limited cast of characters includes a truck driver named Mark Hammelton (who comes with a nice twist thanks to some extra material) and Roman’s lawyer. The moments of “real world” clarity with the lawyer are some of the book’s strongest stuff, humanizing and sensible.
I wasn’t always sure what was actually occurring until the final few pages when the denouement hits in rather heavy-handed fashion. The truth is indeed what I thought it was. While that’s not a bad thing (quite the opposite, actually) it needed to be explained bluntly and probably could have been handled more deftly. Still….
Included are two bonus stories (earlier works). One ties directly into Grey Skies..The other is simply a lean, mean, and nasty little yarn that made me grin from ear to ear. Both work well without overstaying their welcome (or giving you a chance to catch your breath). Good stuff!
I repeat: William Becker is only 18 years old. Grey Skies has all the earmarks of the work of a very young and unrefined author, but that in no way means untalented. He has a strong voice and a flair for the bizarre and surreal that is ahead of his years by quite a stretch. The balance and patience may not be entirely there yet, but I’ll be damned if he doesn’t know how to grab you by the short and curly hairs and keep your attention. That’s half the battle.
3.0 out of 5.0 stars