Andrew Pyper reviews Little Heaven by Nick Cutter
Nick Cutter is my friend.
I mention this not as a “full disclosure” forewarning of potential bias, nor as a promise of gossipy tidbits to come (I’ve got dirt on Nick, sure, but he’s got some filth on me too, so we’re caught in that perfect balance of discretion that goes by the name of friendship). I’m saying I know Nick Cutter because I’m proud of the work he does, and because I’m cheering him on for the right reasons – talent, hard work, rolling with all the punches and laurels the writing racket doles out – and because Little Heaven is a book not only worth reading, but a book that is so distinctly the product of Nick Cutter’s dark mind and (somehow simultaneously) tender heart.
Part Western, part fantastical journey, part nightmare, Little Heaven is big. If you like kickass horror, this is unquestionably the state of the art. But here’s the big difference, the open secret, the value added: Nick Cutter can write. You may come for the bloody nastiness, but you’ll stay for the lush sentences.
In Little Heaven, Nick Cutter proves once again that he is the prose version of Hieronymus Bosch: an artist who reveals the darkest shades of the human condition through master craftsmanship combined with impeccable detail and insightful perversity. Along with something more, something obsessively his own.
It comes down to authorial point-of-view. In the case of Nick Cutter, there’s an aspect to his vision that is radiological in nature: his writing is so often horrifying because it shows both the inside and outside, the natural co-existing with the unnatural, the seemingly normal surfaces that hide the diseased, mutating-before-our-eyes stuff seething within. To me, “body horror” is too general a sub-category to assign to Cutter or Little Heaven. Yes, it’s physical – sometimes wildly, other times surgically so – but Cutter uses the visceral not just for its impact, but to find an insidious pathway to the psychological. He gets you to feel once he gets you to fear.
Whether it’s the themes of coming-of-age in The Troop, or grief in The Deep, or the generational recurrence of evil in Little Heaven, Nick Cutter cuts through our defences with the horrific so that, when the humanity returns, it meets us at our most vulnerable. Reading Little Heaven is like awakening from a particularly nasty dream: you know it wasn’t real, yet it lived so vividly within you for a time just the same.