Horror Drive-In: Talking About Clay McLeod Chapman’s MOTHER

banner reading Horror Drive-In and Mark Sieber and Cemetery Dance

cover of What Kind of MotherClay McLeod Chapman writes without a net.

His stories defy easy categorization. The bare bones of the books may sound like typical generic plots, but he always goes in unexpected directions. Chapman doesn’t seek the easy, commercial way to publishing success. Instead he is carefully, skillfully, creating a body of bold, uncompromising fiction unlike anyone else.

The latest book, What Kind of Mother, is perhaps his most audacious to date. On the surface it’s another domestic thriller, perhaps tinged with the supernatural. It is so much more than that.

What Kind of Mother is the kind of novel where it would be a sin to give away any details of the story. This is one to go into with little or no foreknowledge.

I will say that the book works as metaphor. It is about the people of a small community in Southeastern Virginia. People whose lives depend upon the rivers and tributaries of the region.

For most the water is for fun weekend excursions or perhaps a lovely view. To the inhabitants of such communities, the water is much more than that.  The tides flow through the very souls of the people. The water feeds them, provides income. It gives as well as takes away.

I know more about it than most who will read What Kind of Mother. I worked beside people exactly like the ones depicted in the novel. I toiled on the docks. I worked the boats. I dredged oysters, I culled crabs, I loaded traps and I seeded riverbeds. My hands were ravaged by jellyfish stings and crushed by crab claws. Sometimes it seemed like I couldn’t get the smell of the silty river bottom off of my body. I live and worked near the settings in What Kind of Mother. I personally vouch for the veracity of the details in the book.

Chapman gets it all right in What Kind of Mother. He is intimately familiar with the lives and the habits of the people who live in rural fishing areas mostly untouched by technology and progress.

The people who live this life rarely have conventional educations. They are usually in financially desperate circumstances. They know their craft, and they pass down stories of mystical phenomena. The water has its mysteries and its secrets. Every longtime waterman has seen things that defy rational explanation.

What Kind of Mother is such a tale. Call it Folk Horror if you will, but I call it a Clay McLeod Chapman story. It’s unlike anything he had previously written, and unlike anything I have previously read. It is, for my money, the best book he has given his readers to date.

Photo of Mark Sieber with a cat on his shoulder
Mark Sieber and friend

Mark Sieber learned to love horror with Universal, Hammer, and AIP movies, a Scholastic edition of Poe’s Eight Tales of TerrorSir Graves Ghastly PresentsThe Twilight Zone, Shirley Jackson’s The Daemon LoverThe Night Stalker, and a hundred other dark influences. He came into his own in the great horror boom of the 1980’s, reading Charles L. Grant, F. Paul Wilson, Ray Russell, Skipp and Spector, David J. Schow, Stephen King, and countless others. Meanwhile he spent as many hours as possible at drive-in theaters, watching slasher sequels, horror comedies, monster movies, and every other imaginable type of exploitation movie. When the VHS revolution hit, he discovered the joys of Italian and other international horror gems. Trends come and go, but he still enjoys having the living crap scared out of him. Cemetery Dance recently released his collection He Who Types Between the Rows: A Decade of Horror Drive-In. He can be reached at [email protected], and at www.horrordrive-in.com.

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