When you think about it, post-Katrina Louisiana creates the perfect setting for a horror tale. Storm-ravaged bayous and flooded levees—along with an already prevalent culture of the supernatural—certainly make the environs of the Deep South ripe for an ill-intentioned bogeyman or two. So sets the scene for local author Ania Ahlborn's first novel, Seed, which takes the hot-ticket items of demonic possession and sinister children and tosses them into a musty, kudzu-covered Southern Gothic blender.
The story is familiar and accessible enough. Jack and Aimee Winter are the typical modest-means couple with two young daughters, Charlotte and Abigail (referred to throughout as Charlie and Abby), and a dog named Nubs. The novel begins with a startling car accident in the fictitious town of Live Oak, La. Jack is forced to veer off the road to avoid a dark, mysterious figure with “animal eyes.” After everyone escapes the wreck mostly unharmed, the Winters' youngest daughter, Charlie, begins to go all Linda Blair on us. She exhibits strange symptoms and erratic behaviors that stop short of pea soup puke.
A split narrative winds throughout the rest of the novel. We continuously get glimpses into Jack's early life growing up in rural Georgia, wherein he's roughly the same age as his afflicted daughter. That's when we’re treated to a particularly harrowing scene involving the young Jack, an unsuspecting feral cat and a bit of rope. As soon as it's revealed that Jack is masking a dark secret of his own, the action intensifies. Moving furniture, unexplained noises and other passages from the Hollywood textbook of demonic actions and reactions set in. For the terror to finally be resolved, Jack has to trek back to his old stomping grounds in the Peach State and confront what he's been running from his entire life.
The scenes that get graphic near the end are written with enough unapologetic force to make even the most seasoned horror vet cringe.
The pace of the novel is brisk and the action is abundant throughout Seed's 113 pages. It's forgivable to take a glance behind your shoulder when the demon is described as having “black skin, scaly like a lizard's, small black horns poking out of its head” and a “maw full of long, jagged cannibal teeth.” The scenes that get graphic near the end are written with enough unapologetic force to make even the most seasoned horror vet cringe. What works in Seed works quite well, but what doesn't work sticks out like someone who ain't from ’round these parts.
The environment of rural Louisiana (a couple of scenes even take place in New Orleans’ French Quarter) is a treat, but we don’t get a sense of all the peculiarities and cultural staples this region of the country has to offer. While not wanting to caricature or stereotype seems respectable enough, Jack, the transplanted backwoods Georgia boy, might as well be from Anytown, U.S.A. The character development is lackluster throughout and the reader is never fully drawn in to people or places. Even throwing in a nicely themed reminder such as a “metal sheet into the windshield like a drunk girl flashing her tits at Mardi Gras” doesn't help, unfortunately.
There are several inaccuracies that prohibit the successful stage-setting. The song “Cherry Pie” is credited to Cheap Trick when it undoubtedly belongs to Warrant. Lisa Frank school supplies and Ren and Stimpy glowing on the television screen are both peculiar references when we're supposed to be well established in the 21st century.
Seed is much like a summer movie blockbuster: It's entertaining, predictable and relatively easy to swallow. In a genre that has seen more than its fair share of devils and creepy kiddies, Seed doesn't contribute anything new. When the accolades of horror are measured in consecutive sleepless nights, the book doesn't quite stay afloat—even if Lucifer himself is captain of the airboat tour.