PLOT: When 17 year old new kid Matt Poe tries to fit in to his fresh Iowan surroundings, a salacious lust-affair with his predatory teacher throws him into a tailspin of lies, mistrust, deceit and ultimately irrevocable violence.
REVIEW: Eric Red, the brilliant brain-trust behind such genre untouchables as THE HITCHER, NEAR DARK, COHEN & TATE and more, turns his talent to the long-form medium with his debut novel DON’T STAND SO CLOSE. And boy am I glad he did! Truthfully, in terms of content, I had no idea what to was in store when I peeled the cover back, but suffice it to say the bar of expectation was high. Gratefully, I was treated to a carnally charged, wildly unforeseen and addictive page-turner about a teenager’s torrid affair with his dangerously perverted new English teacher. Equal parts humorous, sordidly sexy and ever suspenseful, DON’T STAND SO CLOSE is a must read for not just horny teens, but for aficionados of well written horror fiction as well!
Matt Poe, a 17 year old paragon of California studliness, would seem to have a lot to complain about when he and his hip teacher mother Ruth are relocated to the sticks of Iowa. Being the new kid is never easy, but for Matt, it doesn’t take too long to acclimate. Instantly drawn to Linda Hayden, the stunning sexpot of an English teacher, the kind every boy fantasizes about, Matt also takes a shine to pariah Rusty Shaw, as well as a cute as a button good-girl Grace McCormick, whose father happens to be the small-town sheriff. A triangulation of trust and ultimate mistrust is formed between the three kids, the wildcard being Ms. Hayden’s prurient and predatory nature. Her dastardly deeds cause a rift not only in Matt’s personal life, but his relationship to his new friends as well. Bodies converge, bodies fall, and Matt’s life will forever be changed.
What I loved most about DON’T STAND SO CLOSE is how unpredictable it proved to be. As a seasoned screenwriter, Red knows how to play with conventions, to craft a setup and ultimately pull the foundation out from under your feet. To keep you guessing. Here he delved headlong into the teen genre, but TWILIGHT this ain’t…in fact if it were a film, it’d be an R-rated effort steeped in blood pools, sweat stains and semen streaks. Basically, a movie I’d love to see! The subversion of the genre is exemplified by how well written the prose are and how deftly the misdirection pays off. In other words, just because it’s about high-schoolers, its level of writing isn’t necessarily catered to such a crowd. It’s smarter than that. I mean, it’s easy to think you know where the story is going because, through preconceived notions of the Y.A. novel, they’re rarely anything but by the numbers. Red says f– all that and constantly subverts expectation.
To this end, I really dug the ending of the book as well. I won’t spoil too much, but again, the resolution (if you can call it that) is anything but expected. It’s the kind of ending that would likely be changed by a–h– suits after a test-screening of the movie adaptation, to give you an idea of what I mean. It’s daring and untidy, which is perhaps why Red chose to tell the story on paper rather than screen (although if successful, I’m sure he’d be happy to adapt his own script). And by untidy I mean that as a compliment, as it strays from the pat, formulaic dross we’ve come to know with this particular material…no pretty bows atop the wrapping. It’s not tragically dour or a depressing turn off, or anything like that. That said, the unanticipated ended is consistent with many facets of the story, in specific the sultry sex scenes. Red not only has startling bouts of character seduction, he too seduces us with surprise, which keeps the tension tight and the outcomes, the finale included, steadily fresh.
The other thing that struck me in the book is how well the imagination mixed with the characterization. Coming from film, a show me not tell me medium, the visualization Red’s prose, the attention to detail, really vivify the story. Obviously with more pages to work with than a screenplay, enough time and room is taken to not only paint a well defined world, but to flesh out the characters as well. The characters aren’t one-dimensional, they have enough room to breathe, find conflict, make mistakes, redeem them, etc. Basically, it’s the best of both worlds, a visual centric script with the deep motivated arcs of a novel, which I found quite compelling. I don’t know, I usually find too much explication in a novel, so I’m glad this one towed the right balance of show and tell, if that makes any sense.
Summarily, I enjoyed the hell out of DON’T STAND SO CLOSE. It’s a visceral, tawdry, unpredictable blend of suspenseful horror and incendiary erotica. Not only will you be unable to guess what comes from one page to the next, you’ll find yourself heavily immersed in a well drawn world with deeply defined characters you’ll come to know and love, in some cases downright loathe. Mad props to Mr. Red for expanding his writing acumen to a new platform, stepping up, swinging for the fences and knocking the shite out of the park.