The Infusorium by Jon Padgett — A Gehenna Post Review

Greetings from the Ether,

We are proud to announce our first review series and subsequent interview of 2018 to be with critically acclaimed author Jon Padgett. Our review of The Infusorium, which you are reading now, will precede a review of Padgett’s debut collection: The Secret of VentriloquismAn interview with the author will finalize the review series, and we couldn’t be more excited to dive into these disturbing but beautiful works by one of the most exciting authors working in horror today.

Without further ado, let us delve into the visceral, dreamy novella that is The Infusorium.

infusorium cover
Cover Artwork of The Infusorium, Illustrated by Dave Felton
Dunnstown is in the midst of a strange season: choking “paper mill days” and the discovery of weirdly altered, elongated skeletons buried within Dunnstown’s sprawling Municipal Park. Homicide detective Raphaella Tosto–a three-year veteran of the DPD–and her partner, Detective Mike Guidry, are on the trail of the murderer responsible for these crimes, an investigation that will draw them both deep within the pall of uncanny corruption that inundates Dunnstown and its unfortunate residents.

As many readers likely know, if they have ever read Padgett’s work, is that his prose exhibits traits of hallucinatory horror, disturbingly visceral description, and a crisp, meticulous talent for conveying otherworldly concepts within a believable narrative structure. The strange details that he dabbles with could easily cross the border into the fantastical, yet Padgett maintains his hypnotic anchors in our minds with language that transforms his often supernatural stories into episodic nightmares played out along a master puppeteer’s strings. These strings originating in our consciousness, that bade us welcome into his macabre imagination.

The Infusorium is no outlier to the modus operandi in Padgett’s fiction. Following a detective’s investigation into strange, gruesome murders in a murky, pollution-ridden town, the novella’s fast pace and viscerally unsettling imagery transport the readers into a desolate landscape whilst their minds are ravaged with obscene, dream-like events and an intertwining mystery that alludes to a broader conspiracy. As is subsequently evident in his debut short story collection, The Secret of Ventriloquism, Padgett expands his shared universe by including several characters and terminology that appear in his other work, crafting The Infusorium as yet another interchangeable part in his mythos. The sense of a collective world in which all of the author’s works exist makes the novella even more enticing, like putting together pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, or perhaps assembling a doll.

Boasting a strong female lead, which is unfortunately rare in much of modern horror fiction, Padgett immediately sets The Infusorium apart from other works. The eco-aware fictional city of  Dunnstown presents a saddening, but not all-too-unbelievable, reality for the characters who reside there, the “paper mill days” a disturbing part of their lives that hits pretty close to home with the advent of pollution and waste that we face in real industrialized cities. The novella’s pace and speedy transitions are preceded by one of the most eye-catching and attention-grasping opening pages in modern horror literature. If the opening lines don’t catch the reader off guard and suck them into Dunnstown along with the acrid air, it’s only because the strings pulling their legs forward have gone unnoticed.

Padgett combines weird fiction, commercial horror, and a dose of noir to concoct a lethal brew of tension that doesn’t go down smoothly, but rather hits you hard and fast. The kind of story that you finish in one sitting, finding yourself wanting more before you’ve even taken your eyes off the final page. As with Padgett’s fiction, the “reason” for many strange phenomena often go unexplained. Whereas some might find this problematic, we find it delicately handled and intricately executed. Padgett understands how reasons, or definitive explanations, can weight a story and dilute the mysticism and ambiguity that make weird fiction such an interesting, imaginative subgenre. He offers enough information in The Infusorium for the readers to develop their own interpretations, while allowing that small space of definition to linger, neither confirming nor denying any notions. Padgett’s language is strange, but haunting, as The Infusorium, from start to finish, feels like a nightmare that the reader just can’t wake up from.

As many have said before, his work echoes Ligotti, but we find the origin of this echo to be an original, enthralling voice that finds no reluctance in dipping into the experimental, and diving headfirst into the peculiar. Ending with an explosive, terrifying finale, The Infusorium will have no trouble transporting the reader into a gloomy, foreboding world while assaulting their imaginations with unnatural body horror, psychologically deranged character motives, and festering an itch to squeeze the back of your arm, just to make sure you haven’t indeed traveled to Dunnstown yourself.

jon padgett

Jon Padgett is a professional–though lapsed–ventriloquist who lives in New Orleans with his spouse, their daughter, and a rescue dog and cat. He is the Co-Editor-In-Chief of Vastarien, a source of critical study and creative response to the work of Thomas Ligotti. Padgett’s first short story collection, The Secret of Ventriloquism, was named the Best Fiction Book of 2016 by Rue Morgue Magazine. He has work out or forthcoming in Weird Fiction Review,PseudoPodLovecraft eZineXnoybis, and the anthologies A Walk on the Weird SideWound of WoundsPhantasm/Chimera, and For Mortal Things Unsung.

We are excited to review The Secret of Ventriloquism and hope that you found his novella as exciting and unique as we did. Make sure to follow us on social media, and if you haven’t felt Padgett’s hand guiding you to his work, maybe you should pay a little more attention to that tugging in the base of your spine.

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