Supernatural romance thrillers are a dime a dozen in young adult fiction. Novels like "Twilight" and "Beautiful Creatures" dominate best-seller lists with all the same pitfalls; the boy-meets-girl love story plus magic, retold.
From a superficial glance, "The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," the debut novel from local author April Genevieve Tucholke, might appear to follow in the footsteps of other popular series, lazily collecting dust on teens' bookshelves the nation over. That is, until you reach the throat-slitting scene. Then the novel takes a turn into a violent and memorable world that makes "The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" a refreshing and terrifying new take on the YA standard.
The story follows Violet and her twin brother, Luke, who spend their days meandering around their family's decaying mansion by the sea, endearingly called "The Citizen." With their flaky artistic parents gone indefinitely to Europe and their beloved grandmother, Freddie, dead, the teens are left without supervision or direction. Low on cash, they accept a mysterious renter for their guesthouse, a young man named River West, and that's when the story takes a serious turn for the delectably weird.
While Tucholke clearly knows the formula for YA novel success—shy teenage girl falls in love with a mysterious stranger with a mysterious smile who mysteriously appears at her doorstep with a mysterious secret—she cranks up the volume on the bland adolescent love story with a smattering of madness, violence and deception. River is T-R-O-U-B-L-E. And Violet knows it. But he's got an eerie way about him that she cannot help but love. He's also got a terrifying secret that reveals itself as the novel builds into a smoldering murderous mystery that shoulders Violet with responsibility for evil power that her sleepy coastal town has never seen; a creepy urban ledgend, a child-kidnapping hermit who lives in a tunnel, a horde of brain-sick children with sharpened sticks and the Devil himself.
Tucholke balances horrific and comforting scenes with ease, fitting them all within the context of coming of age. There's plenty of porch sitting, ice tea sipping, soft old clothes and crackling record players juxtaposed with delusional fever-dreams, dark family secrets and vivid bloody death.
Tucholke blends elements of a Southern Gothic with modern horror, referencing literature, music and film from the Brontë sisters to Robert Johnson to Stand By Me. The author has clearly spent some time with her nose in books (proof: she's married to local librarian for the Deschutes Public Library Nate Pedersen) and her brain floating in the distant fictional past.
I didn't expect to love this novel. I barely expected to get through it. As someone who has spent the last decade talking shit about "Twilight," a gushy supernatural teen love story goes straight to the bottom of my reading list. But, it was quickly evident that "The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" is a more engaging story. The strong female lead who, in spite of herself, is in love with the casual swagger of River West and the secrets his sly smile conceals won my heart immediately. The more I read, the more Tucholke's subtle and skillful foreshadowing kicked in. The novel resists being predictable by splashing in vicious violence and cultural reference. Repeated throughout is the phrase, "You stop fearing the Devil when you're holding his hand," a maxim that somehow sums up the intention of book without giving away a thing.
The sequel, "Between the Spark and the Burn," is slated for release by Penguin in the summer of 2014.
Book release and signing
"The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" with author April Genevieve Tucholke
Friday, Sept. 5 during First Friday Art Walk
Tin Pan Theater, 869 NW Tin Pan Alle
Q&A with April Tucholke
SW: In doing some research I uncovered your public love for horror movies. Can you tell me more about how these violent scenes came about in your brain and how you translated them into the story?
AT: I started on the Brontes and Daphne du Maurier when I was just a kid, and I read my first Stephen King at 14. This, combined with the sometimes brutal nature of farming (I grew up on a farm in the Midwest) gave me an early introduction to violence. And now, writing dark, eerie, graphic things. I like it. I just...do.
SW: I love the references to old movies, songs and the connection to the past you created. I assume that you love all-things vintage outside the story too?
AT: God, yes. I watch a lot of classic films (I love Turner Classic Movies). I'd like to live in a pre-plastic world. This is why I Wes Anderson-ed "Between the Devil"—none of the characters have cellphones, or use the Internet. I wanted to keep the setting ambiguous. Timeless.
SW: What do you hope people get out of the book?
AT: I hope people get scared. I hope they have nightmares. I hope they cook lush, delicious meals and drink great espresso. I hope they invite strange liar-boys to rent out their guesthouses.