There are books that get inside of you like a bloated white worm. You can feel it in there, just to the left of your heart, burrowing deeper, further away from the light and closer to the red dark. When I was 17 I read Helter Skelter, a fat book about the Manson Family murders. It was such a bleak book, weighing so heavily inside my head that when I finished it I hid it in a cardboard box in the basement and made sure that the next time a charity truck came around to pick up donations, that box was first out on the porch.
Brian McGreevy’s Hemlock Grove has a similar feel (except I couldn’t put it in a donation box since it’s a library book). The Godfreys own Hemlock Grove, a small Pennsylvania town. They once owned a steel mill that now lies dormant and desolate. It is now a warren of machine mazes for the town’s teens to get drunk and practice (and fail) the rhythm method. Roman Godfrey lives with his mother Olivia and sister Shelley in the Godfrey mansion. His mother reminds me of a wealthy mother from the 50’s: devoid of warmth and maternal instinct but with a purring liquid voice helped along by excessive (and socially acceptable) amounts of Valium. A snake has more warmth than Olivia Godfrey.
There’s a creepy intimacy between mother and son, a relationship that feeds gossip and uneasiness. And it kinda made me throw up a little in my mouth. Olivia’s 15 year affair with Norman Godfrey continues, even after his brother (Roman’s father?) commits suicide. Norman is weak (as most humans are in the face of love that eats away at the brain and heart) and continues to see Olivia even after vowing “This is the last time.” Famous last words.
Peter Rumancek and his mother arrive in Hemlock Grove and move into a relative’s mobile home. They are Gypsies. I’m not being judgmental here. They openly call themselves Gypsies and are more than proud of it. Not long after they move to town, a girl is brutally attacked. No, not just brutally attacked. The girl is torn in half, her milky cobalt blue eyes staring into the great nothing. The other half of her body is missing.
Sometimes a wolf goes crazy and doesn’t eat what it kills.
Christina, a high school freshman who wants to be a famous novelist questions Peter. She asks him with the bluntness of youth without an inner filter “Are you a werewolf?” Being polite as possible he tells her to shut up and go away. Roman Godfrey takes an interest in Peter and the two begin to hang around. They make an odd couple: Roman Godfrey, the scion of a wealthy family and possessing the gift of hypnotism by looking into a person’s eyes and Peter Rumancek, a tetherless wanderer who never stays in one spot for very long and who has a talent for slipping his skin during a full moon.
After another murder the two team up to find out who-or what- is tearing young girls apart. What else is there to do in a small town after dark? Join forces and hunt for clues, a demonic duo as unlike the Hardy Boys as can be.
At the center of the story is the White Tower, the Godfrey’s medical institute where strange experiments run by Doctor Johann Pryce are conducted. Shelley Godfrey, a speechless giant of a girl (over seven feet tall standing up straight) is often tested there. The word supernatural never pops up but there’s something to Shelley’s conception and growing. Her skin glows at certain moments: happiness, sadness, fear. Her brother and Doctor Johann affectionately call her Glow Worm. She embodies the name gentle giant. She is an old sweet soul with fierce intelligence. Her heart breaks each time a child sees her and bursts into terrified tears or the whispers about her aren’t so hushed.
Amidst the carnage is the story of Letha Godfrey, Roman’s cousin. She claims to have been visited and impregnated by an angel. She plans on keeping the baby. Roman’s territorial attitude with Letha almost rivals his bizarre relationship with his mother, especially when Letha takes an interest in Peter. Two more murders take place and Roman decides the time has come to kill whatever is targeting the town’s people.
If you’re a fan of gothic horror with a modern twist, read this book. The author worked with Netflix to bring it to the screen and it was better than great. Some books don’t translate well into movies but the series followed the books closely. It’s like a day time soap opera on crack. I might have to watch it again.