“Cockroach Suckers” by David Niall Wilson. Available from the Macabre Ink digital store.
Summary: “When Bobby Lee shows up at Jasper’s fruit stand with something big and covered in a tarp in the back of his truck, things start getting a little weird. From giant statues pulled out of the Great Dismal Swamp, to roadside attractions and ancient Lovecraftian-style gods, the two friends find themselves in way over their heads.
Cockroach Suckers introduces you to the world of Old Mill, North Carolina, just off route 17, where things are never quite as they seem.”
It’s back to Old Mill, North Carolina, USA, a stone’s throw from the Great Dismal Swamp, and good ol’ boys Bobby Lee and Jasper are out to make a buck. Inspired by all the “suckers” who spend money on tickets and souvenirs for roadside attractions, Bobby Lee acquires an enormous wooden cockroach to attract tourists. Jasper is a little spooked by the beast, but Bobby Lee erects a shed for her to reside in and the two are soon overwhelmed with customers eager to be separated from their money for the chance to get up close and personal with the wooden monstrosity. Not surprisingly, there’s more to the bug than meets the eye.
In “Cockroach Suckers,” the author does a great job modernizing some Lovecraftian elements such as the narrowness of human consciousness and eons old idol worship with real-sounding dialog and nice character development. The focus throughout the story stays on Bobby Lee and Jasper’s friendship and the effect Mama Roach has on them; the cockroach really isn’t the main character like one would expect, nor does the creature cause a permanent rift in the men’s relationship. By the end I was quite touched by Jasper and Bobby Lee’s friendship. The two men are simple and broadly drawn, but at the end of the day, neither one will throw the other under the bus.
The Bottom Line: It didn’t resonate with me like “‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky” did, but it was still sufficiently deep, freaky, and enjoyable to read.
Note: I can’t jam out novels nearly as fast as I’d like, so in between the longer books, I’ll post these little short story reviews.
“‘Scuse Me, While I Kiss the Sky” is a short story by longtime dark fantasy/macabre writer David Niall Wilson. It’s included in his short story collection Defining Moments (nominated for the Bram Stoker award), and it’s also for sale solo in multiple formats at the Macabre Ink Publishing store here.
Old Mill, North Carolina is a rural, low-income town that could actually exist anywhere in America. If you don’t go away to college, there’s really nothing to do except find a job that can keep food in your mouth and a roof over your head. Some readers might not know what I mean when I say there’s really nothing to do, but that is exactly what I mean. No mall, probably no movie theater, definitely no ice-skating rink, paintball range, or Build-a-Bear workshop. In the case of Old Mill, the military base that was probably the biggest employer in the county closed down and, at the opening of the story, is overgrown and falling apart.
Every town like this has a few people who want to move on to bigger, if not always better, things, and Jess is one of them. He makes plans to leave, but grudgingly agrees to attend one last party with his friends because he hears there is going to be some awesome marijuana available there. He plans to acquire some, then leave town and sell it for some income while he’s on the road. I smiled when I read the description of “The Swamp” – a barn in the woods, whose owner nobody seems to know, in and around which youths congregate to break the law in various ways. If, in your own youth, you’ve frequented such a place (like I have), you’ll especially appreciate the small details the author includes.
I’m not sure if this was the intent, but I thought the ultimate ending of “Kiss the Sky” was a happy one. Jess is forced to make a decision about the direction of his life and what he really wants, and he steps up smoothly. Leonard, Jess, and Mabel all have complicated personalities that jump off the page (or screen!).
The bottom line: Not everyone will consider the subject matter of this story their cup of tea, so if you’re sensitive you might want to skip it. If you don’t mind a raw story with both guts and soul, please don’t miss this one.