Book Review: ‘Our Lady of the Inferno’ by Preston Fassel


Book Review: ‘Our Lady of the Inferno’ by Preston Fassel

Along with the much-anticipated rebirth of Fangoria magazine came Fangoria Presents, a publishing venture that launched with the release of 2018’s critically acclaimed Our Lady of the Inferno by Preston Fassel.

With its splashy neon-pink-accented cover art and the all-but-flickering “Fangoria Presents” signage in the paperback’s upper-right corner, Our Lady has much of the same irresistible appeal that readers of a certain age will remember from garishly designed VHS tapes in their local video-rental store.

(Another pink book, Autumn Christian’s wonderful Girl Like a Bomb, is basking in similarly positive reviews, making one wonder if pink has become horror’s new black.)

The Setting

Fassel’s tale takes place over nine days in June of 1983 and is set largely on New York’s Forty-Second Street, otherwise known as the Deuce. The nineties had yet to see Times Square turned into a place where tourists could safely swing into an Applebee’s (shudder), and you were more likely to run into hookers, drug dealers, and porn theaters than a “three-for” app combo.

For most, eighties nostalgia is a joyful blast from the past, and, as we know, it’s everywhere, seen particularly in films like It and the at-least-partly It-inspired Netflix series Stranger Things

Readers, however, should not expect a glut of “fun” references to that decade, which isn’t to say that Our Lady doesn’t skillfully reference the eighties. It does, and talk of exploding heads and summer camp slashers attest to Fassel’s knowledge and love for the genre. But the novel is more Taxi Driver than Friday the Thirteenth, and references to Flashdance and Sally Ride and the X-Men’s Jean Grey are both intentional and essential to the story and its lead character.

The Plot

Our Lady centers on Ginny Kurva, the bottom girl (a sort of fixer) for a group of prostitutes living at the seedy (and aptly named) Misanthrope. Having maneuvered her way into a position of influence with a grotesque pimp known as the Colonel, Ginny is able to care for her younger sister (wheelchair user Tricia) and run a type of school for the Colonel’s hookers, even as Ginny herself is subject to the pain and degradation inflicted by the life.

Ginny has also struck up a friendship of sorts with horror-film fanatic Roger Neiderman, who tips her off to a predator stalking girls on the Deuce. We learn that the predator, assumed male, is in fact Nicolette, who works at the Staten Island Landfill by day and creates there a kind of killer-dog-prowled, Thunderdome-esque labyrinth by night, with Nicolette the Minotaur at its heart.

As Ginny sinks deeper into alcohol-fueled self-care and is pushed to the breaking point, she nears a confrontation with both the Colonel and Nicolette, with the stakes being any hope for the future, should she even survive.

But is it horror?

Even as a horror fan, this is a question that usually doesn’t excite me. Yes, it’s somewhat annoying when people take the tack that anything skillfully enough realized cannot possibly be horror (Silence of the Lambs a prominent example), but I largely block out that noise. In many ways horror is the most inclusive of genres, and people who can only cast it in a restricted light are doing themselves a disservice.

Still, I have seen people questioning whether Our Lady is horror, so I suppose it’s worth addressing. The novel doesn’t have supernatural elements, and the author doesn’t employ jump-scare-like tactics to frighten the reader. Fassel also leans on character over plot, with big issues much on his mind (the case of course with so much good horror), so those with an aversion to anything remotely literary might get nervous.

But, as mentioned, horror references abound, specifically to films of the era, and the gore comes in sharp spikes. If you look at elements that horror must have, you can see that the book contains an attack by a monster (Nicolette), a speech in praise of the monster, a labyrinth, and a scene with the hero (Ginny) at the mercy of the monster.

Our Lady also has a consistently bleak tone. The book is horror enough for me, but you can debate that to your heart’s content.

The Verdict

Fassel is one hell of a writer, and Our Lady of the Inferno is an extraordinary novel drenched in an eighties atmosphere both more true and less sanitized than many are accustomed to. The real horrors here lie in botched abortions, hopeless servitude, and the kind of arrangements one brokers with oneself to get by — and to care for those they love.

If I have any quibbles it’s that Nicolette, in comparison with Ginny, feels underdeveloped, and the confrontation between the two is pushed so late into the novel that one might wish it had a little more room to breathe.

But those are minor complaints, and Our Lady lives up to its place as the first book in the Fangoria Presents line, which continues with My Pet Serial Killer by Michael J. Seidlinger and Carnivorous Lunar Activities by Max Booth III. I’m looking forward to both and happy to have Our Lady on my bookshelf.

(Fassel had apparently done a signing the week before at the store where I bought the book, so I was also lucky enough to unknowingly snag a signed copy.)

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