It’s March 13th, 2020 and the virus sweeping across the world has finally brought the United States to its knees. Ash and Jack have just moved to Austin, Texas to make a new start. It’s supposedly the liberal oasis in a very conservative state. Anything is better than living near both sets of parents who don’t value or accept their marriage.
Pre virus, they attend a fun evening screening of Jaws. After the show, Ash is verbally attacked by a homophobic millennial. He tells her to go back to China. When Jack steps in to protect her wife, she ends up on the ground with a split lip, and threats from the group to cure her of her love for the ladies. Although Ash and Jack make it back to their apartment safely, the encounter with what Jack refers to as The Cardigan Man ignites her fear of being watched. This fear has always simmered just below the surface for her.
As the virus threatens everyday life, both women begin to grow restless, claustrophobic, and distrustful. As the horror outside their small apartment grows, Jack begins to unravel. She’s always had the propensity to be on the paranoid side, but now it’s beginning to overshadow all reason. Ash is used to being the one to rescue Jack from her demons, but as the chaos multiplies Jack becomes more and more unreachable. Like a virus, fear has crept its way into Jack’s body and mind.
After their landlord seals all the tenants in their apartments and turns off the electricity, Jack has a complete psychic break leaving Ash to face the horror alone. With no food left in the apartment, Ash is totally on her own. She turns inward to reflect on her life with Jack to see when and where things started to go wrong in their marriage.
After Jack tries to murder The Cardigan Man, Ash is left with a knife through her hand not knowing if it’s more dangerous in her apartment or outside in what’s turned into a dystopian landscape. She finally accepts Jack is beyond help. She decides it’s time to leave her marriage, but how can she do that when her apartment’s been sealed like a tomb and she’s at the brink of starvation?
Can Ash make a successful escape, or will The Fear win out and leave both women for dead?
When we first meet Ash and Jack, they seem like any couple moving to a new town for a fresh start. There’s a bit of tension between them, but they’ve spent the day unpacking boxes and that can make anyone grouchy. As the plot develops, the reader gets a deeper understanding of the chasm that’s been growing between them.
Ash is outgoing and upbeat. She’s bold and always in charge. Because she’s so solid she’s a natural caretaker. That’s always been a plus in her marriage. When Jack’s in emotional crisis, Ash is right there to prop her up and assure her all is well. Throughout the first half of the novel, Ash does her best to reach her wife. Jack hasn’t left their bedroom in months, hiding in the closet and refusing food. After the knife attack, Ash is pushed to do some soul searching. She realizes her co-dependent behavior has most likely done Jack more harm than good. Rather than dance around the topic, she should have gotten Jack into therapy years ago, but that doesn’t matter. By August, Ash realizes she has to save herself which means leaving Jack to behind to meet her fate. She’s torn. Jack was the love of her life, but the person hiding out in their bedroom closet bears no resemblance to that woman.
From the moment Jack’s beaten by The Cardigan Man it’s clear she suffers from paranoia. Jack sees a black spirit leave her attacker’s body. She knows deep in her soul that’s the fear she’s always felt stalking her. She convinces Ash to move to another area of Austin to avoid running into The Cardigan Man. But shockingly, The Cardigan Man lives in their new apartment building. Ash thinks it’s just Jack’s paranoia surfacing, but when it turns out to be true, Jack’s battle with her fear becomes all consuming. In her hallucinations, The Cardigan Man haunts her day and night. Watching her lose her sanity is heartbreaking as well as horrifying. There’s nothing scarier than the demons living in your mind. By the end of the novel, Jack’s no longer the woman the reader met at the beginning of the story. She’s become something else entirely.
The Writing Style
The book is broken up in chapters from either Jack or Ash’s points of view as well as some where you’ll get both. The story moves at a good pace. There’s an interesting balance between Ash’s world rooted in the daunting reality of the pandemic and Jack’s world that’s slowly slipping into what might be constant hallucinations. At certain points, the reader begins to wonder if those hallucinations are manifestations of Jack’s paranoia or of something else – something malevolent.
The narrative is both parts psychological horror and gruesome, physical terror. It’s an insightful commentary on the United States as it is right now. More than just the dread of the pandemic, the author shines a light on the homophobia and xenophobia running rampant in our citizenry. Ash and Jack face this from their families and, it ramps up through the final pages of the book.
My Favourite Parts
I’m writing this review smack dab in the middle of the 2020 pandemic. Like the characters in the book, I’m unnerved and in relative isolation. I look at events around the world and it’s horrific. There’s no way I want to read a cozy romance about two women falling in love in the middle of this Covid19 crisis. But I’ll tell you, reading this horror story felt almost cathartic. The author taps into many of the worst-case scenarios that have crossed my mind when I’ve let my imagination run away with itself. It felt good to see that acknowledged. The book is terrifying at times, but so is what’s going on around us. Reading The Fear helped me realize I’m actually in pretty good shape.
There are several things I want to let you know so you won’t be angry with me after you read this novel. As mentioned above, Jack is assaulted by a male homophobe in the opening of the book. As she loses her mind and begins having hallucinations, there is a scene where she has sex with this man – the hallucination. It is brief, but there’s nothing euphemistic about it.
I bet you didn’t know I love horror stories. If I’m not reading lesfic, you’ll most likely find me perusing titles that include Stephen King and John Saul. I love the feeling of being so scared I can’t read another page, and so scared I can’t stop reading. The Fear gave me this exhilarating sensation. It’s psychologically upsetting and physically ghastly at points. Unfortunately, I finished reading it at about 2:00am and I was so freaked out, I didn’t sleep a wink. I loved it! If you’re not in the mood for anything remotely romantic, but feel like reading something you can’t put down, this might be just the ticket.
Excerpt from The Fearnby Spencer Hamilton
Jack dreamt she had been buried alive.
The musty smell of dirt was cut by the biting gag of decay hugging her body like a shroud. A dark more complete than her blackest nightmares pressed into her. She couldn’t claw it from her skin. She couldn’t claw it from the coffin. Her nails ripped from their beds in jagged stabs of pain as she clawed the splintery wood just inches above her face. Screaming, screaming, screaming. The last stab of pain before her fingertips grew numb was that of needlelike splinters decorating her hands like a porcupine’s pelt—and then a deafening SCHKKKG SCHKKKG SCHKKKG as her fingers whittled themselves down to the bone, still scratching and scratching and scratching.
A change in the air. A change in the smell, in the taste of corrosive battery acid seeping down her throat, and she knew, she knew, that she wasn’t alone anymore. Pushing itself through cracks in the shoddy carpentry, oozing down the walls of her coffin, was an alien sludge, a viscous snot hellbent on clogging her throat until her screams were nothing more than a moan . . .
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781952075032
- Publisher: Nerdy Wordsmith
- Spencer Hamilton Online
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Note: I received a free review copy of The Fear: A Pandemic Horror Novel by Spencer Hamilton. No money was exchanged for this review. When you use our links to buy we get a small commission which supports the running of this site