Paradise, Maine by Jackson R. Thomas
Publisher: Alien Agenda Publishing | Release Date: March 15, 2019 | Pages: 217 pages
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I dug Jackson R. Thomas’s debut effort, the fun coming-of-age werewolf affair The Beast of Brenton Woods. Taking an extreme horror-fueled trip into the woods for Paradise, Maine for his sophomore story was pretty well a no-brainer.
Almost immediately, you can feel the ghost of Jack Ketchum in these pages, and it’s clear right from the outset that works like Off Season were a huge inspiration in Thomas’s writing. Paradise, Maine follows a similar conceit as Off Season with its cannibal in the woods, although here it’s a disfigured lone wolf, rather than a family of man-eaters terrorizing the vacationers hoping to escape their problems.
Darren and his wife, Vanis, were hoping to patch over some rough spots in their marriage. Vanis is incapable of getting pregnant and during a depression-driven dry spell in their intimacy, she caught Darren watching internet porn, which has opened a sizable rift between them. A trip to a secluded cabin where they can reunite and rediscover each other seems like exactly the kind of vacation they need, and Darren impulsively books the trip. Unfortunately, their dream vacation soon becomes a nightmare and their attempt at renewing their marriage just so happens to coincide with the hunting season of a third-party, known as the Watcher, seeking to sate his own carnal appetites.
Thomas doesn’t pull any punches, and scenes of violence are frequent and visceral. While we get to know Darren and Vanis, waiting for them to get caught in the deformed killer’s path, the Watcher tortures and brutalizes a kidnapped hunter and several of Paradise’s local get in on the action, unwittingly and otherwise.
While Paradise, Maine is a pretty fun read overall, particularly if you’re a thirsty gore-hound, getting to know some of these characters isn’t exactly the thrill of meeting new and interesting acquaintances. Thomas refuses to give us anybody to root for, and even Darren, our main point-of-view into these proceedings, can only obliquely be considered our central protagonist. Darren, unfortunately, is a shallow little slimeball and I never got the impression that his marriage to Vanis was built on something other than sex, and that his affection for her was predicated on anything other than her attractiveness. Through Darren’s eyes, we learn that Vanis is either ultra-hot or simply a bitch, depending on his mood swings, and his interest in his wife seems entirely dependent on how willing she is to let him slip Tab A into Slot B. Vanis herself doesn’t have much in the way of agency until very late in the proceedings, but up to that point we never really get to know her beyond being a receptacle for Darren’s penis. It’s truly unfortunate that the only prominent central female character in this book is sidelined and reduced to little more than a sex object for the majority of Paradise’s page count.
Despite his pretty weak central characters Thomas delivers a brisk slasher read, for the most part. Some of the writing can get bogged down with unnecessary details, passages consisting of an unholy number of clauses, and confusing, wildly swinging point-of-view shifts. In one segment late in the book, I wasn’t sure if we were witnessing an assault through the eyes of Vanis or Mary, a child Vanis comes to protect and likely the only innocent in the whole damn town.
Much of Paradise is comprised of locals and visitors that exist solely to get butchered in various demeaning and inhuman ways. This is not necessarily a bad thing, though, if all you’re looking for is a truly violent and vindictive bit of weekend escapism. You can feel the inspiration Ketchum had on the author, and even if Thomas doesn’t quite yet have the same knack for characterization he’s certainly no slouch when it comes to unflinching brutality. Paradise, Main is a brisk and entertaining bit of bloody mayhem, and Thomas delivers to us yet one more freaking excuse to never, ever go camping…or hiking…or even just leaving the house, really.