Night Shade Books
Paperback (also available as an e-book), 978-1-9491-0243-7, 408 pgs., $15.99
July 27, 2020
House of the Rising Sun is a surreal adventure novel set in Texas and Oklahoma. An electromagnetic pulse (EMP), caused by a celestial event, has rendered electronic devices useless. After all motorized transportation and the food supply come to an abrupt halt, several people brought together by circumstance must navigate this new landscape before they starve to death.
The EMP strikes just after Thomas picks up Skylar at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Richard Cox immediately establishes the severity of the EMP: cars are inoperable, cell phones don’t work, and planes literally begin to fall out of the sky, crashing in huge fireballs around the airport. Cox also establishes some hope: Thomas’s car is still running because it’s a classic car, manufactured in a time before computer components.
The core characters couldn’t be more different from one another. There are Seth and Natalie, a husband and wife on the brink of divorce, with twin preteen boys. There is Aiden, a man recently terminated from his job and now living on his severance pay, running with Jimmy, a bookie, and frequenting strip clubs. Then there is Thomas, a screenwriter with one hit under his belt and another in the works. Finally, there is Skylar, a Hollywood starlet who is set to star in Thomas’s next film.
Cox employs third-person-limited point of view (POV), with characters trading the narrative. For example, the same action is described by two separate characters, in two separate chapters. Comingled with this approach is the use of first-person POV. Cox uses first person entirely for one character and for another in the form of a diary.
Description enhances the surrealism of the story. During a death scene, Cox writes, “It was the gaze of a man who had stepped into the infinity of nothing, who was forced to endure moment after horrifying moment as poison strangled cells by the billions.” Another example comes from a rumination on the importance of time: “Time’s passage lost focus until it became the ringing of a giant bell that threatened to shatter his brittle reality into a billion tiny pieces.”
The trek of each group drives the pace, Cox alternating between two groups of characters, hinting of a culmination where they will all be in the same place, at the same time, and for the same reason. The closer they get to the meeting point, the heightened the pace, keeping readers fully engaged.
Original character arcs add to the surprises. For example, despite the impact of the EMP, one character considers himself fully prepared and confident at his chance of survival. However, an unforeseen event crushes his preparedness and confidence, throwing him into the same sea of uncertainty as everyone else. Further, one character experiences a complete reversal of core values.
The overall dystopian feel of this novel, compared with the similar feel of the United States in the year 2020, did not go unnoticed by the author, Richard Cox. Indeed, Cox tells the reader in the Author’s Note at the beginning of the book, “While the story you’re about to read has nothing to do with the [COVID-19] virus, there are scenes and themes in the story that may resemble the reality we currently face and may still be facing when you read it.” The similarities between the book and real-life events add to the surrealism. It feels like a film about an explosion in a movie theater being watched by viewers in a movie theater.
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