Thomas Pendleton’s novel Mason is quite unlike any book I’ve read in recent memory. It’s a sort of strange thriller/horror hybrid populated with nasty characters without any redeeming qualities. The exceptions are Mason and Rene.
Mason’s a high school kid with developmental delays. Mason lives with his Aunt Molly and his older brother, Gene, a sadistic psychopath who is seen as a nine-year-old trying to smother Mason in the novel’s opening chapter. Those first few pages set the tone for a novel which remains relentlessly bleak.
Rene is Mason’s childhood friend, although they’ve drifted apart.
…as children they had been best friends. They played tag in the park and chased toads out to the swamps past the Ditch, the rundown part of Marchand where Mason lived with his aunt.
But Rene had grown up, and Mason hadn’t.
Mason tries to stay out of Gene’s way, but it’s almost impossible. Whenever things don’t go Gene’s way, “someone has got to step up” and usually that someone is Mason, who endures Gene’s physical assault time and time again. Mason’s developmental delays make it difficult for him to understand that Gene is a creep and he doesn’t seem to have anyone in his corner to protect him. Aunt Molly is absent. In fact there are no real adult figures in this book, which makes Gene and his drug-dealing cronies (Hunter, Lump and Ricky) that much more menacing.
Mason, however, has a special power. He seems to be able to animate his thoughts, making gruesome images come alive. Handy skill, that, especially when something horrible happens to Rene and Mason seeks revenge.
The crows dove out of the sky as thick as a cloud. They had eyes that looked like tiny flames and beaks like wrought iron. All of the birds were wounded. They should have been dead. Even before the first one hit the windshield, Lump could see the insides hanging out of their breasts. Several of them had heads that flopped uselessly from their thick, black bodies.
Despite its violence (and it’s not too graphic, but the reader certainly gets the idea), Mason will likely appeal to readers who like straight-forward, full-speed-ahead narrative and nasty characters who get their comeuppance.