Have you read this book?
Christopher Stires’ new (and first) novel, The Inheritance offers another riff on the old Pandora’s box routine without much innovation regarding theme, characterization, or plot development. It’s a simple and very gruesome tale of a demonic wish-box, laden with Biblical overtones and cliched monsters, both human and supernatural. Stires can write, quite well in fact, and at the end I was left somewhat disappointed that he chose this story to tell rather than rummaging through his notebook for a more original theme.
The novel concerns one Jess Claiborne, an ex-con (unjustly imprisoned in Mexico for eight years) who upon gaining his freedom from Chiapus and his Mexican tormentor, one Captain Boucher, finds he has inherited a mysterious box from his infamous Uncle Truman, or Tru, as the hard-drinking, hard-fisted Uncle is also called. After learning from his Uncle’s lawyers the basic nature of the box — that it grants wishes — but only to those in a direct bloodline from the original owner, Jess and his girlfriend Sierra jokingly make several silly wishes: a pizza, car repairs, a date with a movie star. All come true, of course, and predictably have loathsome consequences.
From there, the novel becomes a pastiche of Film Noir meets X-Files: a mysterious cabal of psuedo-governmental agents pursues and captures Jess, Sierra, and the box. Imprisoned on an island from which there is no escape, Jess is tortured in various ways in an attempt to make him use the box for the cabal’s predictably selfish and ambitious purposes. After a long period of detainment, Claiborne discovers he can make the box grant his wishes telepathically and thus makes a fight against his oppressors who have contrived to bring his old Torturer from Chiapus, Captain Boucher, to the island.
Cruelty is the watchword for the characters in Stires’ novel. Even the good-guys or gals (like Jess’s Aunt Temple) are only “good” in that their cruelty is directed against Clairborne’s enemies. Stires seems fascinated with torture and depravity and goes into exquisite detail on both throughout the story. Much of the novel concerns various forms of psychological, physical, emotional, and sexual torture. That Stires writes with such loving detail of anguish and depravity may esteem him in the minds of some readers, but I found his repetitious descriptions of baseball bat beatings, amputations, shootings, and eye-gouging tiresome. His dialogue, when not obviously being used as forwarding exposition (as it sometimes is), is crisp and believable.
Stires has a clean and very readable prose style which he hopefully won’t continue to apply to lavish descriptions of torture and evil. He certainly has talent and should attempt to raise himself out of the level of adolescent cruelty this book seems centered around. The Inheritance retains its humanity seemingly against the wishes of the author, whose intent seems to be that of combining demon reverence with the fulfillment of revenge.
Despite my dissatisfaction with the theme and focus of The Inheritance, I would be interested in reading Stires’ next effort. I encourage him to find a fresher concept to showcase his obvious ability and talent.
Readers who like tough-guy, action-centered novels with lavish descriptions of torture and violence will love The Inheritance. Those who prefer thematically deep and innovative Speculative Fiction would probably come away dissatisfied.