Have you ever sat down, poured yourself a glass of red wine, popped open a copy of Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson, and thought to yourself that the Midwest seems like an awful place and that someone needs to write a horror version of that masterful work of literature? No? Well, too bad, because here it is. We here at Signal Horizon are big fans of Nicole Cushing’s work, she’s a wonderful writer in the vein of Thomas Ligotti, Jon Padgett, and a dash of Clive Barker. Her novels are unassailable, and she is a genre unto herself. A Sick Gray Laugh is easily the best piece that she has put out, and frankly it left me in awe. Just to give an example, I finished this book two weeks ago, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It took me that long to write my review.
A Sick Gray Laugh is a novel about, the Midwest. It’s also a novel about madness, depression, utopian cults, literature, sports, delusions, and how one can never escape the history of the place you live in. This novel is also hilarious. It’s a biting piece of satire that approaches religion, cults, and the Midwestern mentality. The book follows award-winning author Noelle Cashman (ha!), who has well-documented battles with depression and anxiety. Even the titles of her novels, “The Girl with the Gun in Her Mouth,” or “Leather Noose,” give you an example of her character. But, she’s a whole new person now. She has found hope in an oblong yellow pill. However, after taking the pill and jogging, playing sports, and being a normal human she has noticed something nobody else notices. A thick snotty grayness that is assimilating all. We will follow Noelle as she researches the history of her area to find the birth of the grayness, and her solution to save everything. This novel is a trip that you won’t forget. It’s dark, it’s funny, it’s unnerving, and it’s shocking.
One thing this book deals a lot with is the history of utopian cults. It’s clear Nicole Cushing did a lot of research regarding utopian cults in her area. This part of the book completely drew me in and constantly made me question Noelle as a narrator. Which is what makes this novel brilliant. It’s a piece of horror fiction that is self-aware, knows it’s bizarre and strange, and completely goes with it. It’s a wonder to behold. There’s a cult Cushing makes up in this novel called The New Moses. They’re a bizarre cult that believes in sexual ambiguity. You cannot tell if the members are male or female. They all wear robes that hide their features, and they wear a veil over their face. the leader of the cult is one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever read about. It’s so unnerving, disturbing, and surreal that I couldn’t look away. Cashman traces the influence of that cult to the society she is living in today and how that affects her. It’s a wonderful narrative that I wish was expanded on even more.
Another topic this book goes into with detail are sports, specifically running. After taking her medicine, Noelle Cashman took up running, and she is feeling healthier than ever. This running is what makes her notice the grayness. Even though she’s taking her medicine, she should be okay. The gayness is assimilating everything, and is affecting her own running, but nobody else can see it. Her one escape, her joy has been taken away from her. This novel satirizes running culture as well, and the bizarre fun runs or 5ks that runners do. I won’t spoil what makes this 5k different, but let’s jut say it involves guns. Because, let’s be real here, you can’t write a novel about the midwest and NOT write about gun culture. Cushing approaches this topic in a way that is hilarious, disturbing, and in the state our country is in now, not very surprising either.
This book is a lot more than you would expect it to be. I mentioned Winesburg, Ohio at the start of the review. That book is a clear influence on A Sick Gray Laugh. Winesburg, Ohio is a novel about the Midwest. It takes place in a small town in Ohio, and each chapter is the sad life of a sad person living in that sad town. The idea of the novel is instead of experiencing the character interacting with the environment around him or her, we see the character’s alone in private. We see what’s behind the closed door. We see the sadness, the pain, the failures, and the hopelessness of people trapped in the town. A Sick Gray Laugh knows that the Midwest is a bizarre place, and it also knows that it traps many people who live there, why are they trapped? The grayness, the grayness controls all, and only Noelle knows this grayness exists. Noelle can be the saving grace, she can save everybody! Or did she just stop taking her medication and is insane? Read to find out!
Nicole Cushing is a writer who deserves more popularity. She’s clever, she’s smart, she’s funny, and she’s Dark with a capital D. If you haven’t read Nicole Cushing before, you owe it to yourself to check out any of her works. Personally, I would suggest Mr. Suicide or The Sadists Bible. However, it is my opinion that A Sick Gray Laugh is Cushing’s masterpiece. This will be the book people talk about when they talk about her moving forward. This book showed me a whole new side of Cushing and I want more. If you want a meta-horror narrative about the grayness of the Midwest, the draw of utopian cults, and one that questions the reality we live in. Look no further than A Sick Gray Laugh, out August 27th, 2019 from Word Horde. As of now, this is the best horror novel I’ve read all year, and I strongly suggest you check this out as soon as you can.