Boys in the Valley by Philip Fracassi
Earthling Publications (Halloween 2021)
$50 limited edition
Reviewed by Dave Simms
Earthling Publications has set the highest bar for the Halloween season for close to two decades, bringing the best reads for the best of months. Boys in the Valley might very well be the publisher’s crowning achievement. Thank you Paul Miller for finding these diamonds in the dark and allowing horror aficionados to revel in the shadows of the highest quality of horror.
Everyone loves a great, apt comparison when seeking out the next great read, and some have likened this novel to Lord of the Flies. While that does connect, other titles set the stage for the crushing dread that is Philip Fracassi’s stunner. Imagine John Carpenter’s The Thing, John Farris’ Son of the Endless Night, and the hit television show Evil. Fracassi paints a bleak yet electrifying setting in St. Vincent’s Orphanage for Boys during a stifling winter in the turn of the century Pennsylvania wilderness that isolates the denizens of the home even further from civilization.
While Boys in the Valley is true horror, it also achieves what the best novels of the genre achieve: it transcends boundaries and explores the human nature and the heartfelt relationships that embrace readers before pulling them into the depths of their own personal emotions. Fracassi delves into this treatise on faith with a deft hand, choosing to embrace relationships rather than the hardcore restraints of organized religion. The plot delves into friendship, loyalty, coming of age, and peer pressure just as much as the impurity of evil itself, which further embroils the reader in the author’s grasp.
As for the story itself, Peter struggles with his looming decision to enter the priesthood for the most typical of reasons: the brotherhood of belonging that he’s never embraced versus the allure of Grace Hill, the farm girl he has grown up adoring. The relationships between the orphaned boys is also typical, as rivalries grow and fade, the young are taken in by the older, the warm-hearted are pitted against the jaded and numb. Father Andrew serves as the voice of compassion and reason while mentoring Peter amidst the harsher personalities who rule the home while harboring repressed hostilities under cover of religion.
When a group of men arrive at the orphanage, Peter watches his world disintegrate. Everything stable he’s held tight for years crumbles as one of the men is seemingly possessed. That evil is a virus which slowly spreads among the buildings, first attacking the boys psychologically and then disintegrating them from within.
Fracassi takes his time building the dread while keeping an eye on a steadily building pace that is akin to descending lava from a volcano. He uses Peter as a gauge of morality and humanity as the entity(ies) ravage the community, separating the boys akin to William Golding’s tale but with the paranoia of Carpenter’s classic. Boys in the Valley is both vicious and heartfelt, a story of crumbling innocence suffocating the relationships that should be sacred.
It’s a beautiful novel that should be — will likely be — remembered as one of the best of the young decade. A harrowing and unforgettable debut novel from Fracassi that should not be missed.