Jon Bassoff burst upon the scene in the last year or so with three very good novels (“Corrosion,” “Factory Town,” and “The Disassembled Man”) that are a little bit different than anything else out there. With his ability to cut right to the dark and desperate side of humanity that is reminiscent of the superb Tom Piccirilli, Bassoff has quickly become a must-read writer for me so I was happy to have a copy of his newest novel, “The Incurables,” to take me on another dark yet entertaining journey.
Dr. Walter Freeman had been known as a kind of miracle worker for the way in which he was able to cure even the most violent of patients. This all changed in 1953, though, when his method of curing the patients, the transorbital lobotomy, came to light and he found himself disgraced and cast out of the psychiatric hospital he had worked in for years. Dr. Freeman was undeterred and decided to take his miracle cure on the road and spread the cure to all of America.
Dr. Freeman is going to find his faith in his cure sorely tested when he gets to the town of Burnwood, Oklahoma. The small town is filled with people who seem to be prime candidates for his cure as no one who lives there seems sane. Dr. Freeman, however, is not prepared for the level of insanity that he encounters in the town. With people like Durango, whose father believes that he is the messiah and preaches to a disillusioned crowd, and Scent, whose father left long ago after killing a man and whose mother still clings to the belief that he will return as well as the secret location of the money he stole that could be Scent’s escape from the town, Dr. Freeman will face a challenge unlike any that he has every run into in the past. The small town’s mix of insanity and violence may not be a good fix for the miracle cure but Dr. Freeman is not about to let anything stand in his way.
“The Incurables” is Bassoff’s fourth novel and it is his fourth very good novel as well. Bassoff has an almost innate understanding of the darkest corners of the human mind and has the rare ability to shed some light into those shadowy corners. Even though the reader knows that he is safe, the novel still feels dangerous as if it is something that should not be exposed to the light. It is difficult for a writer to pull off the type of fiction that Bassoff creates which is just a further testament to his talent. His mixture of offbeat characters and the near hopelessness of the stories is what has me convinced that Bassoff is the heir apparent to Tom Piccirilli. Both of these authors tread in the same bleak territory and can turn the wretchedness of life into something that is intriguing if not beautiful.
There is a little change in the tone of “The Incurables” from Bassoff’s other novels and this surprised me a little but not in a bad way. The characters are very similar in that they are just a little off-kilter from reality yet still believable enough even if unlikely. The difference in the story is that there is a glimmer of hope that barely comes through however weakly. This may just be in place so that Bassoff can pull the rug out from under the characters’ feet (I am not going to spoil the story) but there is still at least an absence of hopelessness in Durango and Scent and a blind hope from Dr. Freeman in the power of the lobotomy. The element of hope is something that was almost completely absent in Bassoff’s other novels but that does not make this a happy novel. “The Incurables” is another very dark work of noir and horror from a budding master of the genre. Dark, gritty, and violent are the keywords for this book and if that sounds good to you then do not hesitate to pick this one up.
I would like to thank DarkFuse and NetGalley for this review copy. “The Incurables” is available now.