I have two large phobias - acrophobia (fear of heights) and arachnophobia (fear of spiders). My fear of heights is, at times, crippling. I'm OK in enclosed spaces like inside a tall building, but going more than two steps up a ladder is grounds for a panic attack. Coming in at a distant second is my fear of spiders. I don't know of any horror fiction that has tackled acrophobia (please feel free to shout out some examples if you know of any!), but arachnophobia certainly lays the groundwork for a healthy number of tales of terror. I suspect that part of my ability to overcome my primordial fear of spiders just long enough to smack them with a rolled up magazine is due to the sheer number of horror depictions in popular media and my willingness to expose myself to such works. However, Ezekiel Boone's debut novel, The Hatching, does little to endear me much further to these eight legged creeps.
Rather than giving us grotesque, mutated spiders or radioactive scares, Boone keeps the core of his spider horror thriller fairly plausible (maybe a little too plausible, which certainly helps bump up the fright factor), which makes the more extraordinary aspects easier to digest. The Hatching is basically a global alien invasion story, but with spiders and a multitude of egg sacs and unsuspecting hosts instead of little green men and UFOs.
Boone wastes no time going bonkers, as massive outbreaks of man-eating spiders are unleashed upon China and India, before finally making their way to the good ol' US of A. The cast of characters confronting this nightmare is equally sprawling, and at times feels a bit too cumbersome and shallow. While the characters are drawn in the "good enough" approach, they're not really the main focus here so I'm willing to give Boone a pass on this. This isn't the type of fare one turns to for in-depth depictions of the human soul, and there's not much in the way of sweeping character arcs (for instance, one man's arc involves getting over his ex-wife, which he's able to do once he realizes he wants to bone the female scientist studying this outbreak). There's also way more characters than can comfortably serve the narrative of a single book, which I'm also willing to give a pass on since The Hatching is the first in a series (Skitter is due out next year).
But look. This is a spider horror story first and foremost. I'm not here for meditations on the human condition. I'm here because I want to read about spiders destroying civilization. I'm OK with some mediocre character development and protracted payoff as long as the scenario is fresh enough to keep me invested and the scares deliver. And those scares...for an arachnaphobe like me? Boy, do they deliver.
The Hatching reminds me why I'm afraid of spiders by tapping into that highly implausible yet all too prevalent nature of what if? Yes, I can (mostly) kill a common house spider pretty effectively. But...what if? What if they team up, or bite me and then burrow their way into the wound and take up residence inside my freaking body, or start wrapping me up in a silky cocoon while I'm sleeping? There's a myth that you eat about eight spiders a year in your sleep. Thankfully, it's a myth. But, jeez, what if you eat even just one? And that one is carrying some eggs that get webbed inside your throat or something? You ever wake up with a scratchy throat? Are you really, 100% positive beyond a shadow of a doubt that it's not an egg sac and that it won't be hatching and that you'll be gagging up a bunch of spiders before your first cup of coffee? That's the type of fear-mongering Boone plays around with here and it's a little too close for comfort at times. All of my fears about spiders and their potential for harm (yes, I know it's irrational. Mostly, anyway.) play out in some wonderfully disastrous scenarios in this book, and occasionally in exquisitely morbid details. There's a few images I'm afraid won't be dislodging themselves from my brain anytime soon.
If you're seriously arachnophobic, The Hatching probably won't do you any favors. However, if you're looking for some solid, B-movie horror invasion on a big budget Hollywood movie scale this book certainly delivers. If anything, being afraid of spiders might even make this book's particular brand of crazy better and more intimate, and how many stories can you say that about?
[Note: This reviewed is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley.]