by Jeremy C. Shipp
Raw Dog Screaming Press
(October 2009, $14.95, 218 pages)
Cursed is the perfect blend of mystery, thriller and fantasy. Yet, this strange example of incredible story-telling by author Jeremy C. Shipp is better known as bizarro fiction, a contemporary genre named for its emphasis on the peculiar, with highly unusual plots. Shipp infuses this bizarre quality into an otherwise normal universe, where his character Nicholas is a recovering alcoholic having a real bad month.
Nicholas, our narrator, is fond of explaining everything in the form of lists. Shipp utilizes plenty of straightforward dialogue, without heavy descriptions of the characters or settings, to keep the story going at a quick pace. Some readers may find it annoying to have so many situations broken into one list after another, accented by conversations with few sentences, but others may find the minimalism refreshing.
However, the simplicity of the novel’s structure is deceiving; Nicholas actually has a very complicated problem – a curse. Being used to curses in fiction involving vampires or werewolves, I was a little confused in the first few chapters when nothing blatantly supernatural occurred, but when Nicholas crosses paths with his friend, Cicely, it’s revealed that she is also experiencing a curse of her own.
Every day someone slaps Nicholas, regardless of what he does to prevent it. He soon discovers that Cicely has been dealing with a problem in the same time frame; she woke up one day to find a tennis ball in her hand that she is unable to let go of. The two of them meet up with Abby, who lost all trace of her family at the exact same time the problems began for Nicholas and Cicely. Cicely eventually forms a theory that Abby may hold the key to unraveling the source of their “curses.”
The three of them begin investigating the remaining people in Abby’s life to learn more about her past. After consulting a psychic aptly named Kin, they discover that living with their curses may be easier than confronting the source. By the time Nicholas, Cicely and Abby cross paths with Ruth – yet another character with her own blight – I was thoroughly frightened, and could feel their sense of helplessness as Nicholas considered giving up in order to preserve what is left of their lives.
This is a story about fear. Nicholas is forced to admit his fears about his past, and his relationships with the people around him. Cicely and Abby must also face their own vulnerabilities. Otherwise, they will remain cursed.
~Ursula K. Raphael