Family Business by Brett Williams may be one of the meanest, most joyless horror novels I’ve ever happened upon. This sucker is pitch-black bleak, filled with a cast of abusers and the abused, and rife with hopelessness. The few times we get meager glimpses of light, Williams revels in prolonging our agony and draws the shutters back down into place to blot out the light. This is a cruel and savage work, one that left me feeling dirty and in desperate need of a shower at the end of its ordeal.
Erika is hoping to surprise her husband with a puppy and ventures off to visit a backwoods puppy mill. Obviously this is the best idea in the world, and after cluelessly ignoring all the warning signs horror-hounds will be well versed in, she finds herself abducted and locked in a cage. Following her abduction, Williams presents a number of despairing sequences of brutal and graphically written rape scenarios, hardcore animal cruelty, vivid abuse, shallow adultery as we get to know Erika’s shady husband, and Erika’s own attempt at transformation from rape victim to manipulative seductress. And just when you think things cannot become more depraved, Williams somehow still manages to up the ante in an on-going pursuit of nihilistic redneck horror.
OK, so this is a story that did not appeal to me. While I enjoy dark, broody horror, this book was just too unrelentingly grim for me. The narrative is violent and savage, and completely stripped of any sort of enjoyment, or even empathy for the character’s plights. If Williams wanted to strip his readers bare emotionally and, like one certain poor puppy early on, viciously crush them beneath his boot heel, he is certainly successful in that regard.
As narrator, Joe Hempel handles the material well, and his reading possesses the necessary gravitas. His accents and character voices fit in nicely with the rural Missouri setting, and the production is smooth. I’ve listened to a few titles with Hempel as narrator, and this is easily his strongest performance. Occasionally in audiobooks, you can notice a narrator’s voice change as he warms up during the reading, but Hempel keeps things consistent for the nearly nine-hour run-time.
With its focus on sheer unrelenting misery for both the book’s characters and its listeners, Family Business could easily take home the Feel Bad Listen of the Year Award if there were such a thing. Potential listeners may want to get an iron gut before braving the dark depths of this particular title.
[Audiobook provided for review by the audiobookreviewer.com]