Joseph D’Lacey’s “ROADKILL” (Book Review)
Following on the heels of their previous chapbook release (Conrad Williams’ unsettling THE FOX – see our review HERE), This Is Horror return with Joseph D’Lacey’s ROADKILL, an existential tale of automotive dark fantasy. The story contains little in the way of actual horror, demonstrating that the publisher refuses to be limited by any generic boundaries one might infer from their name; an admirable undertaking, although one that pays mixed dividends in this latest publication.
The setting of D’Lacey’s story is vaguely dystopian: a scorched, arid landscape in which young drivers race in stripped down, souped-up vehicles (constructed from metal and blood, no less) along a desolate stretch of highway known as the Final Five. If this sounds vaguely akin to the apocalyptic road wars of MAD MAX and its ilk, the specifics are very different. The world in which these races take place feels somewhat medieval, with its inhabitants divided into various social castes. In fact, the drivers could almost be jousting knights, vying to win the favour of their masters. If anything, the story brings to mind Stephen King’s THE LONG WALK (not least in its ambiguous, metaphysical ending), in which the teenaged protagonists similarly took to the road to risk their lives in pursuit of a better life and a way out of the socioeconomic trap fate had consigned them to.
But whilst THE LONG WALK had the length of a novella to sketch in the oppressive details of its future world, ROADKILL feels constrained at 40 pages, almost reading like the setup for a longer account. Although we are given brief insights into this strange civilisation and how it operates, too much is left unexplained. And as such, we have very little idea of what is at stake and what it all means. Simply put, I found it difficult to care about the fate of the protagonist when I had very little comprehension of exactly what he was racing for and why. World-building would seem to be a vital part of any fantasy tale, and yet it feels here that the short story length does not allow sufficient space for the reader to fully inhabit the bizarre society D’Lacey is creating.
Nevertheless, the author’s storytelling grip is suitably white knuckle, ROADKILL’s full throttle pace accelerating satisfyingly in tandem with the protagonist’s vehicle. And whilst the larger elements of the narrative may lurk frustratingly out of reach, the smaller details D’Lacey supplies can be thrillingly visceral – the gradual sense of heat and sensory discomfort he creates inside the speeding vehicle is testament to his skill at creating a tactile, lived-in environment. So, whilst some readers may find the story goes astray en route to its destination, there are certainly incidental pleasures to be had during the journey.
Author: Joseph D’Lacey
Publisher: This Is Horror