All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By

April 12, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, )

huntAll Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By by John Farris

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Last year, I read The Book of Lists: Horror, in the hopes of finding some classic horror novels I hadn’t heard of before. This novel was one of the ones I found, where it was listed by more than one contributor as a strong influence. Since then I’ve learned that it’s considered a classic in horror fiction, so I bumped it up my list. Having finished it, I can understand its reputation, but I can’t say it had the same effect on me as it did the contributors.

The story is about the Bradwins, an old Southern family in the 1940s. It opens with a scene of gripping horror in the middle of one of the Bradwin sons’ wedding, and it effortlessly creates the scene, as well as the mood, character, and atmosphere of the entire story. It’s a tremendous start, and it let me know that Farris is beyond the likes of standard horror authors. His skills as a writer are evident, in the way he creates a scene, develops his characters, and fills the story with seemingly minor details that help to create the mood. Near the end of the book, the tension becomes palpable as the story (which, admittedly, has a slow build-up) drives relentlessly to its conclusion. He does have a habit of having characters give long, expositionary pieces of the story through dialogue, which winds up feeling unnatural because it’s hard to imagine characters talking this way, but that’s the only downside I could see to his writing.

Unfortunately, the story itself isn’t as impressive as his writing. The book was published in 1977, and while the narrative doesn’t feel dated, the story does. It’s a plantation horror novel, with voodoo being the supernatural element, and since it’s set in the middle of Jim Crow, in the heart of the South, there are some cringe-worthy moments in the book. Some of them could be written off as Farris trying to capture the mood of the South, but much of it seems excessive, and in some cases even out of character. That Farris is a white man writing, in part, about life among African-Americans during this time makes it that much worse. He doesn’t come across as being sympathetic or supportive to his characters who use the n-word so casually, but neither does he use this characteristic for a thematic effect. It just feels unfortunate.

I should also note that I read the ebook edition of the novel, and it was filled with typos and OCR errors. They don’t make the story unreadable, but they do distract from the story. The publisher includes a note at the start of the book requesting corrections, but honestly, I don’t have time to sit with a notebook in hand to note every error I find. They need to employ a copy editor to catch these issues before publication.

For me, the epitome of Southern horror is Michael McDowell’s Blackwater, which I didn’t read until last year. All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By is a valiant effort, but it doesn’t unseat the champion. I wouldn’t be opposed to reading more by Farris, but if this is considered to be his best work, it’s hard to get excited about searching out anything else.

Started: January 8, 2018
Finished: January 18, 2018

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