If you're looking for a blood-spattered gore-fest set in the same sleepy mountain town you grew up in, boy have I got a book for you.
Jeremy Robert Johnson's newest brutal horror story never lets up. The book resonated with me in a profound way, each section for different reasons. In the early chapters he paints a vivid (and in my experience, accurate) depiction of high school life in a small mountain town, complete with the secretive outdoor parties, the glaring class distinctions and of course the cool older kids that work at the record store. In the middle of the story, we are given a glimpse into the beautifully depraved mind of JRJ as we are launched into a frenzy of gore; scene after scene of faces being crushed in by lead pipes or pulsating black octopus beaks oozing ichor down someone's neck before they spill a teenager's guts onto the floor. All in the whatever the written equivalent is of HD 1080p. In fact, the only reason this book did not receive a full five out of five stars is that by the end it just barely crossed my arbitrary line from the wonderfully artistic into slightly gratuitous. But hey, I get it. It seems fun to write those scenes. I'm going to give it a whirl in my next short story.
Lucy, Bucket, and Brewer are all fantastic main characters. JRJ gives them a depth and relatability that even the best writers sometimes struggle with. A lot of the character development is done through memories which Lucy experiences throughout the book, but where the characters really come into their own is in their dialogue. It's believable, it's realistic, it's funny, and it's how teenagers actually talk. There are so many times that I find myself reading conversations in written works that feel completely detached from how human beings actually speak to each other. It's hard to read. To be fair, it's even harder to write. But JRJ has honed his craft.
I don't know the author's politics, but it's hard to read The Loop without thinking it is a story critical of the exploitative nature and inherent dehumanization of capitalism. Without giving too much away, the central plot revolves around a greedy tech corporation willing to forgo proper testing on a new biomedical device in order to rush it to market before its competitors beat them to the punch. Needless to say, and surprising no one that knows me, the central message has my unwavering support.
All in all, The Loop was a fantastic read. I blasted through it in three days and enjoyed every moment of it. Highly recommend.