Kathy Hepinstall, The Absence of Nectar (Putnam, 2001)
[originally posted on 3Aug2001]
Hepinstall returns with her second novel, and what a twisted one it is. Part coming-of-age novel, part crazy-preacher novel, part slice-of-life novel (but a slice of the kind of life one finds in, say, Joyce Carol Oates’ more depraved characters), and all charming, in the same sort of way Ted Bundy is said to have been charming.
The plot is pretty straightforward (girl finds evidence that her stepfather is trying to kill her), the pace is adequate, the pages turn themselves with relative ease, and Hepinstall keeps us interested enough; all this would make for an average mystery/thriller in most circumstances, but Hepinstall pulls herself one step above by creating characters more memorable than most. The family from The Hills Have Eyes adopted a few characters from Steve Aylett’s Bigot Hall (with a dash of Stewart Home’s Come Before Christ and Murder Love for good measure) and stopped by Twin Peaks on their way to Kathy Hepinstall’s pen. Among the menagerie to be found within these pages are a brain-damaged dog who spends his days carrying a live toad around in his mouth, a pair of five-year-old twins who are both destined for the Serial Killer Hall of Fame, a teenager confined in a mental ward whose hobby is escaping, and the aforementioned crazy preacher. Set beside them, our narrator, a precocious eleven-year-old with an encyclopedic knowledge of poisons, seems normal.
This is wonderfully fun stuff. Quite highly recommended for those who don’t mind their laughter with a deeply disturbing tinge to it. ****