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When you hear the words Torture Porn one of two things can happen. Either you may recoil away in horror at the thought of violence – for violence’s sake! no less – and start a Facebook group to have the offending article banned (lest we save the Children!)… Or, you may well rile against the injustice of the term, feeling it no more than a critic’s snobriety trying to sanitise the horror genre, and gleefully sit and watch (puke be damned!).

Okay, maybe more than one of two things can happen, but you understand the point I was trying to make. “Torture Porn” is one of those phrases banded around like rice at a wedding, it’s a lay over from the “Video Nasties” of the 70’s and 80’s and a way to corral horror as a genre down a road of gratuitous excess, rather than a genre of pedigree (which it is!).

Many of us will sit down to watch one of these films or read one of these books lauded as Torture Porn and be wholly disappointed to find a few entrails and a decapitation is all we get for our money.

The book The Summer I Died by Ryan C. Thomas is not one of these disappointments.

Synopsis of The Summer I Died

The synopsis for Ryan C. Thomas’s The Summer I Died is… light. It reads like a stereotypical rural American horror story. Roger (the protagonist) finds himself back home for the summer after college. He is a self-proclaimed geek and has only one notable friend, Tooth, who is most definitely not a geek.

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Tooth is a wayward rogue. The son of an alcoholic former pastor, Tooth has been left to his own devices most of his life, and this juxtaposes beautifully with Roger’s more nuclear upbringing. Ryan C. Thomas takes great pains to ensure that there’s a connection between reader and character before the… erm… action begins, a task that pays off handsomely.

The Summer I Died book

Tooth likes his guns. And as Roger is peer pressured into firing one of Tooth’s guns, he finds out he likes shooting guns too. So, Tooth and Roger decide to go to a local party spot up the mountain they live near and have a proper shoot – free of worry of hitting a passer-by by accident. And then they hear a woman scream…

There’s nothing more I can say without giving this website an eighteen rating (R for the Americans!) and a long list of Trigger Warnings, but shit goes down when the two boys play heroes and do what most of us would hope we would (but instantly regret in this case) and go and help.

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The Summer I Died and the Reader

What Thomas achieves so well is something that Hollywood wishes it could. Even when the splatter begins, Thomas grounds his characters in their relationship with one another rather than what is being done to them. And a LOT is being done to them.

His tale weaves the hopes and dreams that Tooth has in the novel’s first act with the horror that befalls them. Tooth, for the record, wants to move West to California with his childhood buddy and lay beneath palm trees and “check out chicks!” on the beach. While initially this seems almost juvenile to Roger when Tooth first mentions it, very quickly Roger understands how preferable this life would be to the one he’s enduring.

And that’s where the title of Torture Porn doesn’t seem quite right for this book. Yet it does. Yet it doesn’t.

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The violence in this novel cannot be understated. Like, at all. I’m cringing a little as I type this remembering a particular scene near the novel’s beginning. Yuck.

And Thomas can definitely claim a place amongst the pantheon of Torture Porn novels if he so chooses to. But there’s a current buzzing beneath the surface of the pages that couldn’t be there if The Summer I Died was only Torture Porn. There’s a skillful vibrancy between the characters that denies the naysayers the right to dismiss this novel as merely “Torture Porn”.

It’s something else entirely.

— FOUNDATIONS OF HORROR —

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In the End…

Do not read this book if you need Trigger Warnings. There are none that I can see that would be useful for you. This book does everything. And that’s okay, Trigger Warnings are to keep people safe, and keep their enjoyment entertaining rather than traumatic. This book may very well trigger you.

But for those who live life without Trigger Warnings, I cannot tell you to buy this book. It is intense. It is violent. It is bat shit crazy.

It’s probably already on your Wishlist on Goodreads.

Last Updated on January 27, 2022.

Conner McAleese
Conner McAleese is a current PhD student at the University of Dundee studying 'spaces' in contemporary horror. His debut novel, The Goose Mistress, was published in 2018 by Dark Ink Press and details Eva Braun's experience of World War Two. McAleese now considers himself a horror writer and has had his short stories published in Blood Rites Magazine and Haunting Voices among others. He looks to the 'disturbing' for inspiration, hoping to academically push back the last taboos in literature to analyse what they represent for today's cultural fears and anxieties. However, he hopes to balance this with a satisfying and long career in horror writing. He currently lives in Dundee and is working on his first horror novel.

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