Published on August 3rd, 2022 | by Conor Hultman0
Book Review by Conor Hultman: “Tentacle Head” by Rick Claypool
by Rick Claypool
Bear Creek Press ($15) – preorder here
Balancing humor and horror in an appropriate admixture to get a childlike sense of dread is hard to do. Kafka could do it. Fabulists like Hans Christian Andersen could do it. Stravinsky could do it. Rick Claypool can do it, because he has done it in his new novella, Tentacle Head.
The scene is the ruined outskirts of a medical-industrial complex. The characters come from the population of mutated monsters that starve for limited food outside the complex. They are impish, weak and silly, with descriptive names: “Yellow Fluff,” “Green Grapes,” “Purple Gum.” This kindergarten class of genetic trash is all watched over by Myco, a compassionate pinecone with limbs and a myriad eyes. One day, the little monsters discover a “corpse,” that after playing with it for several days, begins coughing; they dub the “not-corpse” Tentacle Head.
The imbalance set off from the title character’s introduction into the group creates a chain of
nightmarish events, written in crayons and blood. Claypool has written his story with that particular concision and tone found in the classic children’s picture books: The Velveteen Rabbit, Goodnight Moon, The Giving Tree, and so on. It is a style that betrays larger depths of feeling with commonplace words and simple sentences, arranged poetically, with a flower arranger’s aptitude for suggestion, to deliver potency via extreme economy. In the case of Tentacle Head, the feeling is horror, in subject matter an adult horror.
This is not in any way a book for children. But by using the form of a children’s book, it can attack that part of the reader that remembers being read to as a child. In a beautifully sick way, this book desecrates what is for most people a locked set of memories, those earliest childhood reading experiences. The effect is a rare one for horror, and for the distinguishing horror reader, a delight.
The illustrations by Sarah Allen Reed seal the deal for Tentacle Head. They are peppered throughout the sixty-something pages, and they are a perfect fit for the contents, exactly as good-naturedly twisted. The dramatis personae character sheet in the beginning of the book will be all you need to see to know if this book is for you.
As for my responsibility as a reviewer, I will say that Tentacle Head is creative, messed up, cute, and a lot of fun. But, don’t leave it around for your kids to get a hold of, unless you want them to grow up to be another sick puppy like yourself.