Nightmare by Chad Nicholas was first released in 2020, it is Nicholas’ first novel. I saw it on a bunch of recent internet postings by a number of fellow readers that I follow. Everyone seemed to have very positive reactions, so I added it to my plan of October. Honestly, since I am not a very frequent reader of horror, I am not really sure what to expect in a lot of these books this month. Obviously, I expect gore and darkness, but I don’t know about all of the styles and nuances this genre utilizes. That being said, I do think it is really key for this genre that readers not “spoil” the books for other readers. That’s sometimes true with other fiction, of course, but I feel like its even more important not to do that with this genre. So, that is an added challenge in reviewing such a book – I am going to try to weave a careful path, then.
Overall, I can see why a lot of readers thought this book was well-written and they were captivated. I read the novel over two days and I can agree that it is a very fast read and one that the writing style and storyline are built to be read in one larger space as opposed to being broken up over a longer duration. I did not find any typos or any spots where editing was needed. Also, as a quick remark, I think that for a debut novel, the author chose to write a difficult storyline, but managed it fairly well.
So, this particular horror novel is one that I would put in the pyschological horror subgenre. After having read not very much horror at all, I am going to share that I do not think this is my preferred segment of horror. I paused after typing that in order to give myself a moment: could I develop a reasonable taxonomy of horror types? Let me see, there is cosmic horror (which I have heard about, but I still wonder if there is a solid definition), there is devils/possession/religious horror, and there is monster horror (which would include, perhaps, kaiju science fiction themes, as well), psychological as seen in Nightmare, Gothic, and maybe, finally, stuff that is just slasher gore. So, possibly six different subgenres. I kicked around the idea of “survivor” horror and “haunted space” horror, but ended up arguing with myself. I am unsure about those. Most survivor horror would fall under slasher or monster, I think. And most haunted space, though a frequent setting/locus, would still come to one of the other subgenres, usually religious or maybe monster.
From here onward, though I will still attempt to not add heavy spoilers, I still intend to talk about this novel, so I will have to include some things that may spoil the read. Such is the way of the review…..
Regarding the overall plot, there were plenty of hints and clues that the author is banking on readers not picking up on. And the author’s strategy is to throw so much “shock” and “awe” that the reader does not notice and the hints and clues slip by because of the fast-paced page turning and the sudden gory shock, perhaps. Apparently, and this is me going by a number of reviews (YouTube/Goodreads/blogs), this strategy worked very well. Sadly, it did not work on me. I say “sadly” because yeah, maybe I wish it had worked on me? I have been thinking about the reasons why it did not work on me and I do not know how to write about them without sounding awful and arrogant and hideous. I guess, I’m just going to say: I’m a philosopher – by education and trade, you think you gonna sneak dat stuff by me? Naw, bro, not gonna happen.
I suspected what was going on in this book, but on page 93, that’s when it got a bright pink Post-It note smacked on it. Wham! Because, you see, what I had read was so incongruous that it could not sneak by me. Most of the clue was based on mundane details. SPOILERS ARE COMING NOW —-> The main character calls his doctor and the doctor answers: “Hello?” First of all, it is highly unlikely that you direct call a doctor unless you are part of his golf foursome. Secondly, for the sake of fiction license, let us say you can reach the doctor directly, he certainly is not going to answer “hello.” Instead, he would say “Dr. Reynolds.” A small thing? Maybe, but the clues continue. The main character opens a desk drawer at work and pulls out a lighter. At no point throughout the story was smoking hinted at or mentioned. Why is there a lighter in his drawer? Does he smoke – he does not seem to be a character that smokes? Next, the character dumps papers in a wastebasket and lights them on fire. At work – on one of the upper floors of the building. Yeah, this is not going to happen in the real in 2020 (smoke alarms, fire hazard, fireable action, etc.). So, what is going on here? Is the author truly stupid? No, instead these are hints that we are not in reality.
There are other clues, but I think the one of the biggest is on page 182 in chapter eleven wherein:
Outside, Dr. Reynolds spoke with them. “You can go home for the night if you wish. I will make sure that she is well looked after.”
This obviously is not a realistic reaction to how we started this chapter, which was fraught with action and sorrow and drama:
Scott rushed into the hospital, carrying May in his arms. He ran straight past the desk to Dr. Reynolds, who was in the hallway, speaking to another patient.
“What happened?” Dr. Reynolds asked as they ran down the hallway.
“She was stabbed,” Scott said, not telling him how.
This one is much more obvious than a lot of the previous clues. I mean, a doctor cannot recognize stab wounds? And at the end of the chapter, the doctor telling them they can “go home” as if bringing anyone, especially a child, into a hospital covered in stab wounds will not result in any call to the police.
Finally, the last clue that was much like a bright flashing marquee to readers, was late in the book on page 247. After having a massive ridiculous-level blowout at his house, Scott drives to the county library.
The first aisle he walked down was history, the next children’s books, and the one after that thriller. It struck him as a weird order to have the sections in, but what did he know about libraries? He had never been in one before.
What now? Now, before this, we have learned that Scott is college educated and he also has a library card account. Again, obviously we are not in reality.
The title of the whole book is called Nightmare and I feel like that should be a really massive clue to all readers as to what is going on here. Granted, the plot does involve nightmares, but the reader should have been able to realize what was going on – to some extent, I think. Well, the author chose a tough plot and took a big gamble on strategy. I want to say it did not work, but after looking at the internet for awhile, I guess I would be wrong. The author’s strategy worked plenty on a whole slew of readers. They enjoyed the novel and they were kept off-balance and on the edge-of-their-seat. Unfortunately, the strategy did not work for me. I almost want to apologize to the author for this. At the same time, I am sure the author knew he was not going to hook all the readers; as long as he got a large percentage, I am sure he is pleased.
Unfortunately, the author was never going to wow me because, besides my suspicious Cheka-trained reading, the last sort of novel that I enjoy is the psychological one. It is a bit difficult to define, though. The blatant heavy-handed psych stuff always bores me and that is what happened here. In this novel, I got bored quickly. I just wanted it over already. Yes, that makes me sad because that is obviously not something an author every wants to hear. But, consider… after I figure out it is not reality, what is left to keep me reading? Such is the gamble with this strategy. Take D. G. Compton’s Synthajoy as an example – I gave the novel four stars because it was very strong and intellectual, but I knew reading it that I was not able to really connect with it or comprehend a lot of it. In a similar, but not exact, vein look at my rating of VALIS. I gave it two stars, because of the blatant psychological/psychotropic business of it. I just do not do well with this sort of fiction.
Along with this point, however, if an author is writing a psychological novel – that rather means it is character-based. We need strong character development or the reader needs to be able to connect with the characters. Due to the need to keep this novel constantly shocking and fast-paced, there was not much effort at all to build or connect with the characters. Another risk for the author, one that I do think he could have modified or reworked. As a reader, I am usually not for character-driven plots, but I do like to be able to identify the character. For some readers, characters are all that matters and they practically bond with these fictional identities. In either case, there is not a lot I can tell you about the main character and that keeps me, as a reader, at a distance. I do not care about the character, which usually means I do not care what happens to him. Also, that distance allows me the perspective to see the plotholes or the dull parts.
Overall, not a book for my tastes and aptitude. However, I recognize a lot of readers really enjoyed this. I think it was a heavy lift for a young author. Would I read this author again? Yes, but not everything he writes.