RED X by David Demchuk
4.5 out of 5.0 stars
Publisher: Strange Light
Genre Tags: Horror, Monsters, Queer Horror, Queer Lit
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5
PLEASE NOTE: I originally reviewed Red X several weeks ago and gave it 3.75 out of 5.0 due to the difficulties I had with my digital ARC. The publisher has since sent me a paperback for comparison and I have re-read much of the book so that I can update my review (which follows).
Let me begin by saying I love the design and production of this paperback. It has a soft cover that imitates a hardcover and is complete with back and front flaps. The pages appear to be recycled in unevenly cut sizes—I first encountered this kind of production with the Series of Unfortunate Events books when I was a teenager, and I still love it—and there are also several illustrations featured inside that are haunting and effective. This is the kind of print you must have in your collection.
Onto the actual content of Red X:
This novel contains a supernatural mystery that is backed by historical horrors that you will still find active to this day. There is (obviously) a lot of queer representation throughout this novel, which was new for me in reading. Up until this point, I’ve never read a story that was so honest and visible in its representation of the queer community and its individuals. There are a lot of unsettling sequences throughout—some of which feature mystical and fantastical creatures—which take the reader from the 80s into the late 2010s. You have a handful of characters that you follow briefly in the different sections divided by the year, all of which have been cut with (let’s call them) essays. These sections written in the author’s firsthand account, and make up about thirty percent of this book. Sometimes they recount moments and troubles from his life. Other times they discuss queerness in horror. All of it is fascinating and engaging. In all honesty, I actually preferred those sections to the actual story. What this tells me is David Demchuk should write an autobiography—I would definitely read it.
Now that I’ve had a chance to re-read and skim the paperback edition of Red X, I can say I enjoy it much more now. I still think the essays intertwined with the story come as a bit distracting at times—as if you’re reading two books that have been splice together—but read each on their own (i.e., just the essays OR just the story chapters) and I think the problem is solved. It seems odd to suggest such a thing, but I did that in my rereading and found that it worked for me. Like I’ve said, I actually enjoy the essays most, so focusing on those stretches from beginning to end was an experience all their own.
Red X is a very unique book in representation, storytelling, and formatting. If you’re new and/or uncomfortable with queer fiction, I especially recommend it. Though this is a horror novel, Red X is also the kind of queer lit that should be taken seriously, even studied. As such, I believe Red X should be noted as one of the most important novels of the year.
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