Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Review: Inside the Outside by Martin Lastrapes

Inside the Outside
Written by:Martin Lastrapes


Synopsis: By the time Timber Marlow is fifteen years old, she has already killed three men. Despite the bloody and violent nature of their deaths, Timber is hardly a murderer, at least not in the traditional sense. She has lived her entire life as a cannibal within a cult tucked away in the San Bernardino Mountains called the Divinity of Feminine Reproach. The Divinity keeps itself isolated from the Outside, which is the mainstream society beyond its invisible borders. When the opportunity presents itself, Timber escapes into the Outside, bearing witness to some dark and unsettling truths about the world around her and the integral role she plays in it. But no matter how long she stays away, Timber finds out the past isn't as far away as she thinks it is.

The debut of author Martin Lastrapes, Inside the Outside tells the tale of Timber Marlow through three parts spanning five years. We meet Timber as a 14 year old "youngling" living in a cult. Hidden away in the Californian mountains, the Divinity as the cult is known, lives in relative peace almost completely removed from the outside world. Shaved of all bodily hair because of its relation to evil, the cult members, at least the younglings, seem to live a rather idyllic life. They live alongside the forest and a river, and seem to have a great deal of freedom. But, of course, things aren't really as pure and simple as they seem to the youthful, naive eyes of Timber. The cult members are all cannibals, and while some of their meals come willingly, a great deal more of them are sacrificed against their will. As the first section of the book progresses and Timber sees some of the darker elements of the camp, such as prostitution, murder and rape, the gloss of the cult starts to tarnish. Alongside the brutality that occurs at the hands of Daddy Marlow (the cult leader) and his three sons/henchmen, Timber witnesses some of life's misfortunes that aren't unique to living in a cult. By the end of the first part when Timber makes her escape from the Divinity, she's more than simply a year older than when we first met her, though still as naive as you'd expect a girl who'd never seen a television or even a real kitchen, she's no longer a complete stranger to the harshness of the world around her.

Martin Lastrapes excels at constructing a complete, and believable story from start to end. The first part, which takes place in the cult, was without a doubt my favourite. The cult wasn't simply some spectacular or gratuitous way to introduce a rather sickening element into the story from the start, though it definitely did serve that purpose as well. The cult was well formed with intricate little details, from the history of the "chosen one" and the development of the cult, to the reasons they lived and believed the way they did, to their peculiar relationship with cannibalism, and served as a perfect vehicle to deliver the unique character of Timber. Lastrapes also did a great job blending in the "outside" that Timber would soon become acquainted with, within this initial story. Though the cult is mostly removed from the outside world, Daddy Marlow's business relationship (dealing in bodies - both dead and female) begins to seep in slowly, and has a very important role in the growing up of Timber as well as being integral to her escape from the Divinity. In fact, this subtle intertwining of worlds or characters is probably one of the real highlights of Inside the Outside, as it is repeated several times, and always done with a level of expertise that I wouldn't expect from a debut novel. It's this success that allows the book to cover so much time and action without it ever feeling like it's taken on too much or tried to spread itself too thin. Every character and every event, for the most part at least, has a reason for being in there, though it may not immediately be evident why. In saying that though, there were a few chapters dedicated to providing the back-story to characters which felt a little too removed from the story. They were always interesting, and considering how much I enjoyed most of the characters I'm definitely not complaining, but they were definitely tangential to the actual story and could probably have been shortened or removed.

On the topic of characters, I really enjoyed the characterisation of the players in this book. Some of the smaller characters were, understandably, a little less developed, but the main characters Timber, Luna, Luscious, Ginger, Officer Kirkland and Daddy Marlow were fascinating and skilfully developed. My favourite though, hands down, had to be Luscious, who begins as the liaison between Daddy Marlow and the outside world, and eventually becomes a father figure and saviour to Timber when she takes her place in the Outside. He's a colourful and voracious character, who (considering his profession) has a gentleness that made me warm to him immediately. Timber, our teenaged protagonist was also very well developed and designed. The beauty of her character comes from her life in the Divinity. Although she's well-versed in things most people never come face to face with, such as stripping the flesh of a human and cooking it for consumption, she's incredibily naive because of her backwood education. She's at both times tough and vulnerable, adult and very, very childlike. As the book continues to recount her time Outside, these contradictions become even more defined and thrown into sharp relief as she becomes more aware of what people on the Outside think and believe, and how different her upbringing was from their status quo. It makes for a very interesting character, and a very interesting read.

While defined as horror, Inside the Outside definitely isn't a horror story filled with bogeymen jumping out from shadows. Instead it threads the horror into a coming-of-age tale quite unlike any I've read before. Because it tells the story of a cannibal cult, if you have a weak stomach and are unable to face a few graphic scenes of dismemberment or sexual abuse then this probably isn't the book for you. However, these scenes aren't frequent and never gratuitous, and the rest of the story, though marred by the stench of incest, assault and cannibalism, tends to take on these themes and issues in a more reserved and removed approach.

All in all, an engaging story and a successful debut for Martin Lastrapes.


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