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In and Down

by Brett Alexander Savory

Although it is being pushed as a horror story, the second novel from Brett Alexander Savory – a Toronto writer, musician, Rue Morgue magazine contributor, and editor at Scholastic Canada – transcends the conventions of the genre.

In and Down is difficult to summarize. It tells the story of two brothers, Michael and Stephen, who live with their father following the mysterious disappearance of their mother. After a series of near-tragedies – as often as not caused by Stephen, who quickly emerges as something of a sadist and demon seed – Michael receives a mysterious letter from their mother, written after her disappearance. The letter, which seems to lay the blame for her decampment on Stephen’s strangeness, triggers a series of visions in Michael, macabre waking dreams that draw him deeper and deeper into the strange and terrifying depths of his subconscious. This alternate reality, which takes, among other shapes, the form of a sinister carnival, begins to creep into Michael’s waking life.

Standard concerns of the novel form, such as characterization and narrative drive, are of little concern in a novel like this one, wherein the very nature of reality and consciousness are called into question. In and Down unfolds, appropriately enough, with a dream-like amorphousness, constantly resetting its own parameters in a way that would make the most ardent postmodernist proud. Compulsively readable, it defies expectations even while seeming to embrace them. The book’s final revelations are breathtaking, and justify an immediate re-reading.

So why is In and Down being pushed as a horror novel? Simply put, because it will scare the dickens out of you. And clown-phobics should be warned: the Simpsons punchline “can’t sleep – clowns will eat me” has never been more terrifyingly applicable. In and Down is a masterful piece of work.