Untcigahunk: The Complete Little Brothers

July 20, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

horrorsUntcigahunk: The Complete Little Brothers by Rick Hautala

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I said I wasn’t going to return to Rick Hautala, but I was weak, and I’ve heard a lot of good about Little Brothers, and I already had A Haunting of Horrors, of which Untcigahunk is a part. When it came time for me to pick another e-book to read, I caved and figured I would give him another shot. So, here we are.

The novel is about creatures that live underground and come out every five years to go on a killing spree, and the main character is a young boy who saw his mother killed by said creatures five years ago. It starts out with the boy in therapy, talking about his loss, coming to terms with it. Now, it’s five years later, and he’s the only one who has seen the creatures, and there’s only one other person in the town knows what’s going to happen.

The story starts out fairly well, starting off with character instead of setting. It’s a bit clunky, since the characters have to go a long way toward explaining what’s happened so far, so we get a lot of telling, but at least I felt like the characters were folks to care about. Hautala also goes into a lot of minute detail in his scenes, which draws them out. Here’s an example:

He chewed the sticky peanut butter thoroughly before washing it down with generous gulps of clear, cold water.

I think it helps add to his atmosphere (it raises tension, especially when you know that something bad is going to happen), but I couldn’t help but feel like a lot of the detail was unnecessary. He’s already told us that the character has a peanut butter sandwich, and that he has a cup of water from a spring. Was it necessary to then go into that much detail about how he eats his lunch?

As a result, it takes a long time for the story to get going. The lead-up wasn’t uninteresting, but it was long-winded, and didn’t seem all that relevant. Once we get to the heart of the action, it wraps up pretty quickly, making me wonder what the point of the story was. Usually stories that take that long in the build-up wind up being character examinations, but the story doesn’t work that way, either, since the characters are inconsistent. I think some of that is Hautala trying to do some character development over the course of the story, but it didn’t convince me. The main character is a twelve-year-old boy who, around the halfway point of the novel, reveals that he’s running away from home, and has been planning it for about a year. There’s no indication in the story that he’s been thinking about this until the day before, and there’s nothing in the story to convince me that he would want to run away. It’s like Hautala needed him to run away to make the next part of the story work, and dropped that plot point in without giving us the proper hints leading up to hit.

In addition, Hautala gives us two hoods, one a teenager, the other in his early twenties, who are either horrible people, or well on their way to becoming one, but doesn’t give us much reason for why they’re like they are. The teenager at least has some depth of character in how he’s poised at the point where he can become like the other one, or strive to be better than that, but his motivations either way aren’t that clear. Hautala seems to show his growth by the end of the novel, but then he pulls it all back and makes him a bully again, in order to give more growth to another character. And then there’s the father, who is supposed to barely be there for his sons, but seems to be making a decent effort that the sons are oblivious to. We’re supposed to accept he’s an absent father because his kids think so, even though his behavior tells us otherwise. I couldn’t get a handle on what we were supposed to feel about him.

The heart of the Untcigahunk legend is Native American, so of course we have to have a Native American character. His portrayal is ham-fisted and potentially offensive — he has long, oily, black hair, and he’s an alcoholic — but this was published in 1988, when political correctness (otherwise known as “treating people as they wish to be treated”) was just starting to get mainstream. On the bright side, Hautala avoids a lot of the mysticism that goes along with Native American stereotypes, but the characterization is problematic.

Untcigahunk is a collection of the novel Little Brothers and eight additional stories that expand on the idea of the creatures. The first three stories stories go a long way toward explaining what the creatures are and how they came to be (they’re each a “Micmac … tale told around the campfire”), but I couldn’t help but wish that it had all been woven into the main novel. It would have realized the creatures more and added to the story. The remaining five stories are full stories, and while the first one captured a sense of portentous dread, the others were too predictable. It didn’t help that I already knew what the twist of each story was going to be, thus removing some of the tension of the stories, but they just read like a standard “they’re coming to get you” horror story.

Had I read this book back in the ’90s when I was in full-on horror mode, I might have appreciated it more. Now, what I deem to be good horror is so far removed from what was published back then. Not even my nostalgia for that time can make this story more than just being ok.

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