LEISURE TIME w/ GLENN ROLFE
THE RESURECTIONIST by Wrath James White
Welcome to Leisure Time. I’m your host, Glenn Rolfe. While I should be hard at work writing a new short story or finishing a novella or a new novel…instead, I’m here with you sharing my thoughts and love for my favorite line of horror books ever.
Leisure Books was the king of mass market paperbacks in the late 90s and throughout most of the 2000s. They were the “cheap” place for horror books before the eBook explosion of the late 2000s. They were led by acquisition editor extraordinaire, Don D’Auria (Samhain Publishing, Flame Tree Press) and rostered some of the greatest horror writers of our time. From the late greats Jack Ketchum and Richard Laymon to upstart newbies (at the time) such as Brian Keene, Ronald Malfi, and Sarah Pinborough, the list is huge and amazing.
Each month, I will read or re-read a novel from the vast Leisure Books catalog. Come with me as I revisit one of the darkest books in the LB library, THE RESURECTIONIST by Wrath James White.
Where the hell to begin…This book, man, this fucking book. I received my original mass market paperback copy of this one as a member of the Leisure Books Horror Club. Those of you that were singed up know we used to get two new books in the mail every month. Hell if I can remember which other book arrived with this one, but I do recall reading the back copy and thinking, ‘wow, this sounds good’.
I remember sitting down and opening this up and reading the prologue (or was it the first chapter?). We come upon a father killing his wife while raping her. Meanwhile, the couple’s young son, Dale McCarthy, is watching the whole gruesome act playout before his eyes. The police show up and shoot the crazy father dead, and the young boy goes to his mother and breathes life back into her. Yes, young Dale has the power to resurrectpeople (and pets, as we find out soon enough). He is the Resurrectionist.
At the time, I hadn’t read too many really fucked up horror stories. I think OFF SEASON by Jack Ketchum was the most brutal and shocking story I’d read. Well, this book rewrote the script right at that first chapter. I was thoroughly disgusted and completely appalled and scared as hell. I still had, like, almost three-hundred pages left to read. What the fuck was going to happen?
I, with some reluctance and a helluva lot of trepidation, braved my way back into the story.
Dale’s childhood is really fucked up and Wrath gives us a few brief glimpses, albeit detailed and screwed up glimpses, of Dale’s life with his mother and grandmother. We find out Dale tests his own ability to bring back the dead, killing his pet cat, his mother, and his grandmother, only to bring them each back again. He quickly finds out that when he brings them back, they never even remember what had been done to them, which sets up for a whole lotta wickedness from our growing boy.
I won’t tell you what happens here, you’ll have to read it.
Sometime later, in a small town outside of Las Vegas, we meet Sarah and her husband, Josh. Wrath does a tremendous job building these two characters. Sarah is the strong, confident, loving wife, while Josh, who works at a casino, is a big, bad ass motherfucker with a sensitive side. You end up liking and caring for this young couple pretty quick. Which is why when we find out they have a new neighbor, and he’s a creepy little weirdo…we’re like, ‘oh no’.
Yep, and the creep doesn’t waste any time going full-Dale. Sarah gets the gist that something’s majorly off upon meeting him. Josh is not so worried. What’s a wispy little twerp like Dalegoing to do to him? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot.
Before we bust into Dale’s abuse of his neighbors, I want to touch on another character piece in this one. Sarah is a sexually confident woman. She loves sex and loves it with her husband. Josh, on the other hand, is more vanilla about sex, and while a good partner and fine performer for Sarah, also has moments of feeling like he might not be able to live up to or keep up with her sexual appetite, despite what she says. This, we find out, has to do with the fact that Josh was raped by a counselor as a teen. I just love the dynamic here and how Wrath uses it to tip conventions on their heads. It works brilliantly throughout the story. I love how Josh is drawn as a huge bad ass, and Dale is a wimpy dillhole that should stand no chance…
Like I said, it doesn’t take long before Dale has marked Sarah as the object of his sick desires. He manages to break in, kill Josh, rape and kill Sarah, wash all the clothes and bedding, and bring them back to life. Sarah wakes up in different clothes or upon different bedsheets and it strikes her as bizarre. Josh notices nothing. Dale repeats his escapades again and again. Sarah does begin to get flashes of what she thinks are dreams of their gross neighbor fucking her and killing her husband. It’s when the mattress begins to seep blood that she realizes something horrible and seemingly impossible is happening.
I don’t want to give this all away, so I’ll skip over some things. Sarah becomes convinced that Dale has raped her and that she just can’t fully remember it. The police are called in, and now they are all trying to figure out what the hell is going on.
One of the best parts (or most maddening) of this book, is when Josh and Sarah set up a camera to record them while they’re sleeping. If you’ve read the book, you know how this all goes down.
The other characters Wrath brings into the story are also compelling and you want the best for them, especially Det. Trina Lassiter. She’s a tough, no-nonsense cop who faces off with Dale near the end of the book. Man, they have some tense freaking movements. The last few chapters of the book are like that; you will be at the edge of your seat one step from losing your shit. Trust me.
Watching Dale wreak havoc throughout this story is tough. This book isn’t an easy read by any stretch of the imagination. It is extremely graphic while totally engrossing. You will want to turn the page even if just to see this fucker get his come-uppance. Wrath does not play it safe anywhere within these pages. He unleashes his villain and has you at the edge of your seat and terrified and disgusted from beginning to end.
Now, I’ll share another story about my experience with this particular novel that I also shared with the author face-to-face. When I first read THE RESURRECTIONIST and reached the end, I tore my paperback copy to shreds and tossed it in the trash at my work. I was so pissed off by the way it all unfolded. I didn’t want anyone ever reading this book again. I wouldn’t dare put a copy in the Goodwill or Salvation Army for some innocent reader to stumble across. About four years later, I was at a convention and saw one of Wrath’s other books on a table. I started chatting with the guy at the table, who turned out to be Shane McKenzie. I told him my story and he laughed. And he smiled. And he told me I had to tell Wrath should I ever get the chance. The funny thing is, while recounting the anger and disgust I held for the antagonist and this story, I realized how powerful this novel actually was. I hadn’t read it or thought about it in three or four years, yet it still fucked me up to talk about it. I suddenly knew that one day I would have to read this book again.
I met Wrath the next year at the World Horror Convention and got to share my story with him. By that time, I’d decided Dale McCarthy was easily one of, if not the, most terrifying villains of all time.
I purchased a new copy of the book this summer and re-read it. Dale, to me, is easily the #1 villain in horror fiction. THE RESURRECTIONIST for all its hard to read scenes (and despite my initial feelings toward it all those years ago) is now in my Top 10 horror books of all time.
A couple months back, I reached out to Wrath and got to interview him for this piece.
So without further ado, here’s my conversation with the man himself.
Leisure Time: The Resurrectionist was published with Leisure Books in 2009. Where did the idea for this book come about and how long did it take you to write it? And to follow that up, with it being as vicious as it is, was it an easy book to write? Were there any scenes that made YOU squirm?
Wrath James White: I wrote The Resurrectionist in an effort to scare myself. I realized that nothing had really scared me in a long time, so I wrote a story to try to scare me. The idea of being helpless while someone repeatedly rapes and brutalized the woman you love is terrifying to me.
I wrote The Resurrectionist in five months. The last 18k words were written in a single weekend. I wrote 48 hours non-stop, without sleeping.
None of the individual scenes made me squirm. It was the overall concept of being victimized by something you can’t understand and can scarcely believe, and are powerless to stop. That’s what scared me.
LT: As vile as Dale McCarthy is, I don’t think the dark gift he possesses in this story would have worked as well with any other type of character. Everything about him screams pathetic, yet, time and time again, he outsmarts and out maneuvers just about everyone in his way. Was it as frustrating for you as the writer to see this guy staying two steps ahead at all times?
WJW: The entire point was for the reader to feel the frustration of the protagonists who knows something is wrong but can’t prove it. Like with most tales of the supernatural, the lack of belief becomes a weapon the antagonist uses to stay ahead of his pursuers.
LT: I haven’t read Sacrifice yet, and I see it’s a somewhat sequel to The Resurrectionist? How do the two collide? And do we ever find out what becomes of Dale? (If not, is there ever a chance we’ll see an official sequel?)
WJW: You will have to read Sacrifice for that answer. Anything I could say would ruin the surprise.
LT: One of the best things about The Resurrectionist is that it is as brutal and vicious and vile as anything I’ve ever read BUT what makes it work is that your characters are so real and so tough and vulnerable at the same time. I thought Sarah, Josh, and Dale were extremely well-written. There’s almost something magical about being able to balance the type of darkness in this book with the softer complexities of the human spirit. What drew you toward extreme horror? What are your keys to making it work?
WJW: If horror explores the dark sides of human nature, extreme horror explores its absolute darkest aspects. Extreme horror goes where traditional horror fears to tread.
My writing is extreme because I leave nothing to the imagination. I believe the reader is paying me for my imagination, so it’s a copout to leave it to their imagination.
When it comes to characterization, that is the key to a successful book. You have to make the characters real, even if they aren’t particularly likeable. The reader still has to believe in them or else they won’t feel it as deeply when they suffer.
LT: I met you at the World Horror Convention in Portland back in 2014. After talking to Shane McKenzie the previous year and telling him how I tore up my original copy up of The Resurrectionist after reading the ending, it made me realize how big of an impact your story made on me. He told me to tell you the story and I did in 2014. Luckily, you didn’t squash me. I got another copy this year and just finished re-reading it. I now put it in my Top 10 horror books.
What are some of the most memorable responses you’ve received from readers of your books?
WJW: I had one reader who couldn’t finish Voracious because of the scene where a man eats a baby. I had a couple readers get upset over the racial plot of 400 Days of Oppression and accuse me of being a racist. Those are the most memorable reactions. The reactions to the gore are predictable. They don’t stand out for me.
LT: My monthly piece is all about Leisure Books and its authors. What are some of your favorite books from the Leisure catalog?
WJW: Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door stands out for me. It was one of the most grueling roads. All of Richard Laymon’s books. And Edward Lee’s Infernal series.
LT: What do you remember most fondly about your time working with Don (D’Auria) and Leisure?
WJW: The Resurrectionist came to be because Don decided to reject the novel I’d previously sent him a month before it was supposed to be released. He asked me if I had any other manuscripts, and I had nothing, but I told him to give me five months. Then, I wrote the first three chapters and sent it to him.
Back then I used to write the first draft of the manuscript in bare bones. Then I would go back later and add more lush description and colorful words. Well, I sent Don the rough draft before I pumped up the description and he loved it. He praised my new “lean muscular style”. And so, I kept it. I wrote the entire book that way without the five dollar words or the heavy poetic descriptions. I have been writing that way ever since.
LT: What are you working on now? Any new novels on the horizon?
WJW: I am writing a dark romance novel of sorts about a woman who is turned on by men fighting over her, so she holds an MMA tournament and the winner gets her as their slave. A hired assassin with a serious bloodlust enters the contest and claims her, taking her along for the ride on his blood-soaked adventures. It’s pretty twisted.
LT: That sounds great! Thanks for making time for me, man. I appreciate it.
WJW: My pleasure.
You can shop all things Wrath here: WRATH JAMES WHITE
My thanks to Wrath for making time for me and this post.
Until next time….
Glenn Rolfe is a Splatterpunk Award nominee and the author of BLOOD AND RAIN, THE HAUNTED HALLS, THE WINDOW, BECOMING, and many more. Find his works HERE