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Hollow Shotguns Paperback – July 3, 2012
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"Definitely not for someone looking for a cosy read. There are nasty things at work. You would also need to get used to the teen language Patel is using - a language these children use in their own communication. But this took me all but one chapter (being a woman of 40+ years). Not only a flesh-ripping apocalypse story, but very much a story of growing up, friendship, boys becoming young men." - The Pegster Reads Review
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Hollow Shotguns is the story of an apocalypse, the end of the world, and on a deeper level, of humanity. The setting is Riverstones City (Stones for short), which is not new to fans of Khalid Patel. Characters from other stories like Red are met here. It's the capital of poverty, crime and moral degradation, the grotesqueness given to the dangerous streets a metaphor in itself. It is hopeless, and depressing.
Inside the monstrosity that is this city are layers of dark, South Grove being one of the most decayed of the suburbs. "The Grove comprised a squared stretch of slight dwellings. All decrepit... Crumbling corners embraced spent needles, smoked-out blunts. The same sidewalks which in day hosted candy swapping, playful tussles, teenage flirting, come night quartered drug dealing, brutal violence, prostitution." This is home to The Set, a gang of four teenage boys. At heart, they are only boys, who do what boys do. For example, the question at the center of Slash's universe is "Can Tyler Durden thrash Frank The Bunny?" Their actions are geared at proving their worth. At a grassroots level, their needs are the same as all children: recognition and acceptance. When their home and school environments do not satisfy this basic need, The Set becomes the family that fills the gap. This is where we meet Cade, Mills, Slash, Zeth, and school bully, Thump.
The story starts with Mills being bullied by Thump in an alley. Then each boy goes home to face his own kind of abuse. Cade is traumatized by his alcoholic father, Zeth by his drug addict brother, Slash by loneliness/boredom in the absence of his parents, and Thump by his violent father, while Mills is bullied in a different kind of way by his smothering, overprotective mother. The boys are fighting to survive mentally, physically and emotionally in South Grove. But the world as they know it is soon shattered by a different kind of war. News of a virus turning adults into demon-like figures, hits.
As the citizens of Stones are whisked away to a Safe-Zone in helicopters, The Set are accidently left behind, and together with Thump, have to make it there on foot, battling demons and facing countless life threatening challenges on the way. Their weapons consist of a meager collection of boyish armor, including an oversized sock stuffed with marbles, a cane, a bat, a chain, and a shotgun that takes on a metaphorical value throughout the novel.
Hollow Shotguns is character-driven, and it's done extremely well. The author really gets into the head of each teenager and manages to portray a clear, consistent personality for each. The characterization is brilliantly authentic and believable.
It takes a while to get accustomed to the unfamiliar slang of the dialogue, but once immersed in the beauty of the language, the language itself becomes as much the story as the narration. It was like reading a two hundred and sixty-three page poem. Lines like these jumped off the page:
"Fuckishnessss" seethed Zeth. Through the wreckage, he espied the house phone, semi-buried beneath clutters but still connected to the wire. He lifted the receiver, heard the one sound he not wanted to hear. Silence. "Carcassed..." He flicked the switch on the TV. It remained blank.
"Zilch's gonna work" explained Cade finally. "Said it in the paper. They raze everythin'. Every. Thing. We needta get to Fallows, man. Won't be safe till then."
"To Fallows?" grilled Mills. "How? Buzz a taxi? None of us can drive. And truly don't think buses are driftin' today."
"Cade's right" reflected Zeth. "Haveta get there someways."
"It's miles away!" gulped Slash.
"Needta drip outta Stones, least. And after, we might find a still alive phone, can tell `em to rescue us."
Besides the language, the humor was my favorite part of the book. Humor is not an easy element to achieve, but in this case, it's overachieved, hands-down a ten out of ten score. I loved it. This deep-cutting humor cleverly balanced the gore of the tale, adding the perfect fluctuations of lighter pace to the otherwise heavy piece.
As for overall rhythm, it did take a while for me to really get into the story. In fact, the story doesn't really kick in until the helicopter takes off without The Set. The first part is dedicated to scene-setting and character-building, but only a dedicated reader may continue reading (the kind of reader this book is aimed at). I'd even go as far as to say that going into so much depth about each character's life wasn't necessary as the narrative achieves SHOW without TELL brilliantly. All the meaning came out in the action, dialogue and thoughts, of which there were no POV issues. Once into the story, the pace is good, with enough variation in rhythm to keep it flowing. After each explosive part, the story slows down enough for readers to catch their breath before it picks up again.
All in all, Hollow Shotguns was a challenging and enticing read which I thoroughly enjoyed. Khalid Patel delivered a layered story and a powerful message with many emotional and psychological levels. I visualized Riverstones City, and I felt like I spent an intimate journey with The Set, really getting to know them. I love the fact that the author did not adhere to the norm. For example, norm dictates not to allow prose to draw readers out of the story. Yet, the prose became the story. I'd love to know what made Khalid Patel decide to venture from the `straight and narrow'.
There is a lot more between the lines of Hollow Shotguns than five brave boys, the end of the world, and kick-ass action. It is a psychological exploration of humankind and the fine line between right and wrong, delivered in a refreshing, unique voice with quality dialogue. This is a demanding read but well worth the effort.
Set in the blistering heat of summer, this is the story of a gang of preadolescents endeavouring to survive the homicidal consequences of a raging virus. As Hollow Shotguns unfolds, it becomes evident that the traditional materials of horror are being pushed far wider than ever before, merging popular and literary fiction. Whilst the foundations may lie in the horror genre, rather than sinking to the usual slasher/zombie plotlines and letting the reader idly suspend disbelief, Hollow Shotguns forces them to confront and question where the real threat to the physical and spiritual self lies. As the measures taken to ensure survival escalate, the narrative unnervingly exposes how the capacity for harm which dwells within the human psyche is far more terrifying than any external demons. This is a work brave enough to challenge its readers not just appease.
The humour weaving through the passages offers some respite from the intensity of the main subject matter, with constantly well-placed reminders of our protagonists' youth and innocence, juxtaposing the bleaker backdrop of the apocalypse and the violence. The naive ponderings of the young prodigies, often focusing on minute and irrelevant details irrespective of the approaching apocalypse, serves to develop the characters and give the book heart. From corrupt governments to antiquated education systems, all come in for hilarious ridicule... especially poignant when expressed from the mouths of the young boys.
Hollow Shotguns is laced with phonetic beauty. Khalid Patel masterfully combines lexicons to create sentences which are as evocative as they are poetic. It is a strange, addictive prose that reinforces the darkness of the book. The style may require some acclimation, but once the unique rhythms have been clicked, it becomes nightmarishly engrossing.
The battle sequences are particularly absorbing. A poem in motion; delirious, disquieting. Yet the gore and violence is not to conform to audience expectations (and nor does it), but is more an organic consequence of the story Hollow Shotguns is telling.
There are no tidy resolutions with this tale. Whilst Hollow Shotguns celebrates the social balance which ensues as class divides disintegrate, the reader is left considering a vision of a society perishing from within as it comes to terms with the material and moral sacrifices made to ensure survival.
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