BOOK REVIEW: “Splattered Beauty” by Brandon Ford
It always perplexes me a bit when I finish reading a novel and am left with a disturbing sense of neutrality, that I neither loved it, nor loathed it entirely. In college one of my studio art professors used to say, when ranting and raving about instilling some sort of passion into one’s work, “Love me, hate me, but by God feel something!” What she meant by this was, so long as you are evoking a strong emotion in your audience, whether it is bliss or revulsion, you have made a statement that people will talk about. I have carried this notion with me throughout life and reflect on it whenever I am called to review a particular piece of literature or work of art. Thus, when I am confronted with a body of work, which inspires neither of these extreme emotions in me, I find it a bit disappointing. Unfortunately, SPLATTERED BEAUTY by Brandon Ford happens to be one such novel.
This is not at all to say that SPLATTERED BEAUTY is a badly written book, not by any means. In fact, it is quite well written and it is obvious that Ford took his time in crafting it. There are no major faults of any kind, which I can find with the book. For me, it is the story itself that falls a little flat. SPLATTERED BEAUTY is the tale of an actress in Hollywood who has found herself on a destructive path of extreme substance abuse after her career as a B-style slasher movie star has come to an end. Alyssa has been officially typecast and has now found it impossible to find work, especially after the divorce from her director husband, Peter. At a local horror convention, Alyssa meets a particularly enthusiastic young fan by the name of Taryn, a nineteen-year-old girl secretly madly in love with Alyssa. Overcome by Taryn’s praise of her work Alyssa allows Taryn to live with her after Taryn runs away from home. With Taryn’s help, Alyssa begins a string of murders as a twisted form of retribution on Hollywood and her ex-husband.
When I mentioned, above, that the story fell flat, it is because I feel as if I’ve read this book before somewhere, that the story is not a new one. It simply didn’t have that fresh “wow” factor that I was anticipating. The down-and-out actress trying to drown her sorrows in Percoset and vodka, the angsty young lesbian horror fan, the Hollywood murder spree; it all felt revisited and not in a unique way. Ford is an excellent writer and I know, given the right storyline, he could have really knocked it out of the park, but SPLATTERED BEAUTY simply lacked the originality necessary to make it truly memorable.
Another aspect that didn’t agree with me was the character development of Alyssa and Taryn. Alyssa’s substance abuse is so over the top that I felt it to be on the verge of being unrealistic. A handful of Percoset and an entire bottle of vodka to start the day off would kill most people and certainly wouldn’t allow Alyssa to drive to meetings with her agent. Also, her sobbing self-pity and loathing, after the first eighty-eight pages, began to grate on my nerves a bit. This coupled with the unrealistic idea of her allowing a strange teenager to move into her house after just one night of knowing her was a little too much for me to agree with. I have to admit, I am one of those readers who nitpicks at details such as these. Books, no matter how fantastical, must be believable in some way for me to not become hung up on the impossibilities here and there.
The second half of the novel does pick up pace quite a bit, however, as Alyssa embarks on her killing spree with Taryn. The murder scenes are brutal and unforgiving and perfectly scripted; again, Ford is an excellent horror writer and I could easily see this book being made into a movie at some point down the line. It all goes back to my original statement, however, that I was left with a feeling of neutrality at the close of the last chapter that I cannot seem to shake. I am extremely interested in reading some of Ford’s other work, such as CRYSTAL BAY, and will continue to keep an eye on him for future projects. Perhaps one of his other novels will inspire a stronger emotion within me next time?