Erin’s Book Review of “Kind Nepenthe”

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“The leaves are all brown.” And no, I didn’t go off the deep-end–I didn’t misquote The Mamas & The Papas lyrics– I’m not that kinda girl…don’t you all know that by now? SMDH.

“What are you doing, then?”

I’m quoting little Megan in Matthew Brockmeyer’s debut novel “Kind Nepenthe” that takes place in Humboldt County, California–more specifically, in the dead center of marijuana country…oh, now I have your attention. Great!

Throughout his work, Brockmeyer leaves no stone unturned–metaphorically, that is, and this begins with the title itself and its tragic-beautiful tie-in to the novel. Allow me to save you a bit o’ Googling. Nepenthe is a mythical drug believed to erase sorrow and suffering.

You’re welcome, by the way.

From the first page, I couldn’t help but feel an unsettling presence that seemed to float along with me through the piece–one of the many aspects that made putting “Kind Nepenthe” down, next to impossible–that’s right, not even a tub of gas station nachos was enough to lure me away from the deep-rooted–no pun intended–okay, bad joke– evil that was about to take place, and no amount of therapy sessions would’ve ever prepared me for the ending. How did it end? Here’s the obligatory “Buy” link.

Muwhahaha…

We meet Rebecca–a dreadlock sporting, vegan hippie type who, tired of society, wishes to raise her daughter, Megan, in a quiet setting where they can live off the land. Speaking of land? Matthew Brockmeyer has an impressive knowledge of horticulture so I had to ask him if his repertoire came from research or experience.

“Well, my wife is an herbalist and I am a permaculture designer. We live on a small farm/homestead. So, most of this knowledge did come first hand. I love the use of nature in literature, both as world building and as metaphor. In particular, John Steinbeck and Cormac McCarthy both use it to great effect. You can convey so much with descriptions of the natural world, from majestic and awe inspiring beauty, to a forlorn sense of dread and creepiness.”

Squeaky grocery cart wheels aside–okay, only McCarthy fans will get it…hmm–the “Creep” factor is ever-present. There’s this whole Stephen King vibe in the ‘recovering’ addict, Diesel who is struggling to rekindle a relationship with his son DJ in anticipation of becoming a grandfather–all the feels, right? Maybe. If what you’re feeling is an eerie vigilance. So much so, that if Cormac McCarthy and Stephen King had a love child, it might be “Kind Nepenthe”, and Thomas Hardy just may have Saturday visitation.

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“Diesel had pictured the boy’s face as the metal tore into it, crushing his head into a pulp of blood and bone in the gravel.” (Kind Nepenthe)

 

Everybody is watching for something– Calendula, Rebecca’s ‘hippie’ boyfriend, is watching the grow room, Rebecca’s watching for Coyote, the owner of the land, to return and pay them, and Diesel is watching his son DJ follow in his footsteps of drug addiction and domestic violence.

All the while… who is watching Megan?

The land?

Yikes… and double-yikes, because I’m saying…it’s the same land where Spider, the ghostly solitaire-playing creeper, buried dead bodies.

Back to the solitaire…I put the question to Brockmeyer–Would he play solitaire with a ghost? He wittingly points out the flaw in my question–smartass…yeesh.

Even so, here’s what he had to say:
“Well, it’s a one-person game, hence the name. That’s the thing about ghosts, their utter aloneness, separate from everything yet stuck there just the same. Would I play cards with a ghost? Sure. I’ll play cards with anyone or anything, I suppose. As long as they’re buying the drinks.”

Despite the sarcasm of the above answer, I still enjoyed “Kind Nepenthe”–for anyone who hasn’t already drawn that conclusion. What made the book real to me was the characters: the dichotomy of hippie culture meets that of gun-toting-good-‘ol-boy, makes for the perfect storm once the two enemies meet–literally a storm.

Who doesn’t know the lady who lives in a trailer, watches home shopping channels, and buys trinkets such as Christmas ornaments? The absent father struggling to clean up and reconnect with his son? The mother who wants to make a better life for her child?

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“This (“Kind Nepenthe”) was a long time coming. I had the idea of a horror story set in a back-hills marijuana grow for some time before I ever commenced to putting it down in writing. Southern Humboldt County, California, where I live, is world famous for its cannabis cultivation. Being a horror freak it occurred to me long ago that I need to write a horror story about the crazy clash of cultures here between rednecks and hippies. It took about a year to write the rough draft, and then another year to rewrite it. There were significant changes in the rewrite, whole sections edited out and new ones written in. Then I spent several months editing it down from 76,000 words to 70,000 in order to quicken the pace, make it meaner and leaner. I’m terrified of boring the reader.” –Matthew Brockmeyer

 

When we sew evil into physical nature, we can’t help but reap that same darkness, and this is the perfect juxtaposition to the human element–when we’re ensnared by our own dreams, when they turn dark, and hold us captive, do we reap a bleak future?

Perhaps we do, and in that, we find that maybe it’s not the dead we should fear. Maybe we should be more afraid and aware of the rapid transition of our best intentions into malice and how that translates into our future.

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“Even when he wasn’t in the grown room it permeated is consciousness, filling his brain, controlling his thoughts. Staring down into the open top loader, thumbing his wart, his left eye twitching, he grinned an idiot’s grin and giggle quietly as he wondered: Who serves who? Do I control the grow room, or does the grow room control me?” (“Kind Nepenthe”)

 

Until next time, my friends. Thanks for reading, and if you’re still awake, feel free to leave comments.

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