Book Review – Revived by Barbara Avon

There’s an old Biblical saying that goes the wages of sin is death. The underlying interpretation wasn’t necessarily that if you sinned, you died physically, although that has been known to happen from time to time. Rather, the message was really about spiritual death; the loss of ourselves in our undying quest for gratification. I guess you could say it stands to reason that every little bad thing we do clings to us like a desperate, needy girlfriend with a drinking problem and a violent temper. Hooked into that theory is a message of atonement: Y’all done fucked up and need to fix it.

Years ago, I read a story about the Hellbound train where the passengers weren’t necessarily being dragged to Hell for eternal punishment because, let’s face it, that’s a dumb idea and a complete waste of resources. Rather, the passengers got to experience every little bad thing they did from the perspective of the recipient of those actions. A little experience goes a long way, especially when you get to see things through someone else’s eyes. Personally, I like to think my atonement will be brief, but I like to think a lot of things that aren’t necessarily true.

So, this leads us to the latest afterlife mindscrew from Barbara Avon. Recall, last year I did a review of her Owl Motel, which follows similar patterns. You die and – guess what! – all the bad shit you did in life is waiting for you on the other side. In the case of Revived, all the bad shit you did in life comes back to visit you after you come back to life after being dead for a while. That’s right; some things you simple can’t escape. Just like that clingy girlfriend, there are some things you can’t escape by simply dying. Some things require the afterlife equivalent of steel brushes and bags of lye. But, let’s be honest, you weren’t really using those top layers of skin anyway.

There’s a lingering scent of terror throughout the whole of Revived. It’s not necessarily a tale of punishment and redemption – in fact it could be argued that the main character never achieves redemption. Revived is a look back on a life that our main character thought was, at the very least justifiable, if not actually okay only to closely examine just how nasty it really was.

Like many good authors, Avon has latched onto a tale as old as time itself – the notion that there must be atonement – and used it to springboard into a modern, terrifying ale. Revived doesn’t pull punches. It gets in your face and shrieks at you like a coked-up banshee. It’s one hell of a ride and I loved every page of it. Even if you kick the morality subtext to the curb, there’s still a river of unexplored misery snaking through here and the kick in the gut that comes with exploring that misery.

If you’re looking for a story that doesn’t flinch at exposing the ugly, this is a good one. Well written, well paced, generally superb. Just don’t expect to let it slide off you because it’s going to hang out with for a while whether you want the company or not.

Escaping through the woods, he remembered the way he had disturbed tree branches and how the snow had fallen in clumps on his head as if God was smiting him for his sin.

Steven Gold was a man who turned heads. Men in suits wanted to be him. Women wanted to know him. Little old ladies wished to adopt him to fill the void of missing grandsons. His surname suited him. He lived an idyllic life with his wife of eleven years, Cassie, an artist whose passion for life was so deep, she blocked out the childhood memories that were the cause of her anxiety. On a rainy night, a celebratory dinner proved fateful when Steven was struck by a car. He died for a full 60 seconds. When they revived him, his sins followed him back. Set in 1994, “Revived” is a haunting psychological horror that reminds us that being sorry for our sins, does not free us from damnation, and that not even the ones we love the most can save us. He should have stayed dead. Some disturbing scenes.

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Book Review – Owl Eyes Motel by Barbara Avon

No matter what that huckster on late night TV claims, no one actually knows what happens to you when you die. Yeah, yeah, yeah, bright lights and a sensation of floating. Maybe some angels doing angel stuff or some devils shooting dice in an alley. When my dad died, I had a dream where he had managed to get a message to me that basically said the afterlife was a place to unlearn all the bad shit we’d done in life. An anti-college, if you will, where forgetting was the key. Probably no raging keggers, either. So, kind of like going to Oral Roberts U.

Personally, I think it’ll be different for everyone and I’m hoping somehow or another drag racing factors into the afterlife equation. Not because I’m good at drag racing or have even ever drag raced, it just seems like it would be fun and if you’re already dead it’s not like drag racing accidents could make you even more dead. Plus, I’m sure dragsters in the afterlife would be bumpin’ AF.

Owl Eyes Motel, the latest work from multi-genre author Barbara Avon, does not have any drag racing in it. But that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. What the motel does offer is a full service afterlife experience including clean rooms, an experienced staff, and an on-site psychotherapist. Think of it as a stopover on the road between life and death where you can wash up, relax, and get excellent room service. Which, if you think about, is almost as good as drag racing and significantly quieter. And, when you realize that most of the people in the Owl Eyes don’t realize they’re dead, the place makes even more sense. It also explains the lack of drag racing since the recently deceased suck at driving. But don’t let anyone know I told you that; it’s a secret.

It would have been easy to simply tell a story about each guest’s death whether untimely or expected and call it good. Drop a little morality play in there and you’ve got comedy gold. But Avon took it a bit further and even though most of the stories center around a single person’s death, the novella as a whole revolves around the hotel itself. While individual deaths could be interesting for a while, even spinning yarns about people managing to run themselves over while back out of their driveways can get old. But hints of history and purpose about a stopover point for the newly dead that includes a breakfast buffet and nightly lounge acts? That’s cool stuff right there.

Avon writes with a certain glee, not necessarily happy that people are dead, but rather a tone that she appreciates her words and wants them to live and breathe. While the subject matter may vacillate from melancholy joy to crushing sorrow, the words – and the characters they represent – hop off the page to tell you their tales. In this collection, Avon is the thrilling narrator, but the stories all belong to the characters.

All in all, a good weekend read that doesn’t get bogged down with its subject matter. I’m not sure I’d fully classify as horror because horror doesn’t carry your luggage or provide room service, but it’s an excellent musing on life, death, and what comes beyond those things.

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The year is 1985, and there’s a storm brewing. It’s the kind that forces even the derelicts to retreat to their gutters. Each room is its own unique story; each chapter, a room. Check in at Owl Eyes and stay a spell, won’t you? There’s always room for the dead.

“Come in! Come in! Welcome to the Owl Eyes Motel. My name is Milton and I am the owner of this fine establishment, situated on Route Number 666. That’s six-hundred and sixty-six. Owl Eyes offers impeccable service. There is no lack of creature comforts at this here motel. At Owl Eyes, we pride ourselves on our attention to detail. Management kindly reminds you that we are not responsible for lost luggage…or souls.”

*Some scenes depict dark and sensitive themes.

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