Sunday, May 15, 2011

Slice of Cherry (book) by Dia Reeves

Synopsis:

Fancy and Kit are two sisters whose father was arrested and put on death row for torturing and killing people in the basement of their home. Now their mother, Madda, works long hours to support the family, and Fancy and Kit are trying to make sure she never finds out that they're on their way to following in their father's footsteps. At the beginning of the book, a young man sneaks into their home, intending to steal some "Bonesaw Killer" souvenirs he can sell on Ebay. Kit stabs him and intends to kill him. Fancy talks her into merely keeping him locked up in the basement and cutting him up every once in a while. It's not that Fancy lacks a desire to kill - she has the same urges as her sister. No, Fancy is just terrified that her sister will be caught the way their father was caught. That's pretty much the only reason she does her best to make sure the guy doesn't die, and even stitches up his wounds whenever Kit is done with him.

Eventually, the guy, who is now so covered in sutured wounds that the girls have named him Franken (short for "Frankenstein"), develops a Stockholm syndrome-inspired attachment to Kit. Fancy wouldn't be so bothered by this if it weren't evident that Kit has grown to like Franken in return (which does not, by the way, stop her from cutting him up and asking if she can kill him). Even worse, Kit begins showing an interest in a boy named Gabriel, one of the sons of Kit and Fancy's father's last victims. The interest is mutual, and Gabriel's older brother, Ilan, seems equally interested in Fancy, much to Fancy's horror.

Fancy wants nothing more than for what's left of her family to stay together. She decides that the only way this is possible is if she can find a way for her and Kit to kill without any risk of being caught - then Madda would never find out their secret, no one would ever be able to send them to jail, and Kit would be able to kill to her heart's content and lose her newly-developed interest in Gabriel.

When Fancy gets her wish, everything seems perfect, at first. What Fancy is slow to realize, however, is that change is part of growing up. As Kit's world broadens to include more people than just her sister and Madda, Fancy worries that she will be left behind.

Commentary:

I read this book quite a while ago but delayed writing about it. Part of the reason for this is the discomfort I felt with how much I ended up identifying with Fancy. Even though it was Fancy's relationship with her sister that I identified with rather than her urges to kill (thank goodness, right?), it's still not a comfortable thing to see a part of yourself in a character who's a serial killer.

I got this book via ILL after reading a review of it over at Dear Author. It's actually the second book in a series. I haven't read the first book, but, from what I could tell, it wasn't necessary to have read the first book to understand the second book. At least a couple characters from the first book have a cameo in this one, and it's possible that some of the town's oddities wouldn't have been quite as shocking to me if I had already read the first book, but I was able to follow the events of Slice of Cherry well enough anyway.

At first, the fantasy elements of this book weren't very apparent. Kit and Fancy were obviously two scary, dangerous girls, but they were scary and dangerous in a way that was grounded in reality - serial killers exist, and it's not completely improbable that a couple girls could have a guy imprisoned in their basement for the occasional round of slicing and dicing without their mother finding out (Madda seemed to have blinders on - they kept her from finding out what her husband did, and they keep her from investigating what her daughters were doing, up to a point).

Gradually, though, the town's weirdness made itself known. For instance, everyone born in the town of Portero, TX is given a key. That key can unlock some very freaky doors. Although Fancy doesn't use her own key to unlock the place that lets her kill without leaving behind evidence, she does unlock it with a key she finds in a dangerous part of Portero ("danger" is relative - you could argue that all of Portero is potentially dangerous, and outsiders, not having the innate survival skills of native Porterenes, tend not to live long). Some Porterenes have special abilities - Fancy is able to see far away places and even show them to people. It's not uncommon to walk the streets of Portero and find pools of blood, body parts, and evidence of monster attacks. Even Portero's vegetation can be dangerous - in one of the more horrific scenes in the book, Kit paralyzes a would-be rapist using a plant native to Portero. Deciding that it's unlikely the killing would be discovered, Fancy encourages Kit to kill the guy, and even directs things a little. It is Fancy's suggestions that inspire Kit to cut the guy open and do her best to make sure he is still alive and conscious when feral pigs arrive to investigate and eat him.

Although I assumed, at first, that Kit was the scarier of the two sisters, scenes like the one I described above convinced me otherwise. Yes, Kit was violent and dangerous and not the sort of person I'd want to spend much time around, but, left to her own devices, she would probably just kill a person or animal and be done with it. It'd be bloody and messy and over. Fancy is not as much of a fan of blood, and she does her best to stifle her urges to kill, but all this seems to do is make her more horrific when she does kill. Even when she's not directly involved in killing, she is at least the inspiration for greater horror. The would-be rapist would not have been eaten alive by feral pigs had it not been for her suggestions to Kit. Then there's the part where Kit reminds her sister of the time she made a squirrel eat its own liver - I'd be willing to bet that the person who gave her the idea to do that was Fancy. Kit is a very direct sort of monster. Fancy, on the other hand, is much more creative and all the more terrifying for it. I didn't even trust Fancy not to kill her own sister - and, at one point, she even hurt Kit in a way that seemed to confirm my fears. I ended up skipping to the end of the book just to make sure that Kit survived.

I have a very good imagination, and some of the earlier gory scenes in the book were enough to make me feel a bit queasy. As the story progressed, however, and more of the killings started to happen in Fancy's secret place, the goriness became much more cartoony in nature. Although the number of killings went up sharply after Fancy found a way to do them without being caught, I wasn't as bothered as I might have been, because, for me, the killings seemed less realistic and horrific.

The more horrific killings and my inability to relate to many of the residents of Portero turned me off on this book somewhat. Fancy and Kit's many killings were one of the worst-kept secrets in Portero - I think Madda was probably the only person in town who didn't realize what they were doing. For the longest time, I couldn't understand why the townspeople would hate Kit and Fancy's father for what he did and yet support Kit and Fancy for what they were doing. Even after their reaction was explained (by the town's sheriff, no less), I still couldn't wrap my brain around the idea that no one in town was bothered with the idea of Fancy (and Kit, but Fancy in particular) being the town's judge, jury, and executioner. I also had a hard time understanding why Gabriel and Ilan were so interested in Kit and Fancy. This is eventually explained, and I could see why Gabriel might like Kit, but it was still a little hard to see why Ilan would like Fancy, who had absolutely no social skills and did her best to push him away at every opportunity. The only thing I could think was that maybe Ilan liked a challenge.

Even though some aspects of this book bothered me, I would still give it a fairly high overall rating. I can't really say that I liked or enjoyed it - it made me too uncomfortable for that. But I do think it was a good book. I found Portero to be absolutely fascinating. The thing that really grabbed me about this book, however, was something that I didn't fully recognize until I was maybe three quarters of the way through - the similarities I saw between myself and Fancy.

Change and growing up are big themes in this book. After her father is put in prison, Fancy becomes obsessed with keeping her family as much the same as possible. She doesn't want either herself or Kit to end up in prison, she doesn't want Madda to find out about what she and Kit like to do, and she wants her family to continue to be a self-contained, self-supporting bubble. Her strongest bonds are with her family, particularly with Kit, and Kit's strongest bonds are with her. Kit is the more outgoing one and has better social skills. When Kit's world starts to open up, Fancy can't follow, and she feels like she's being abandoned.

During a large chunk of my childhood, my dad was in the Army. My family didn't move as much as some military families, but we still moved several times that I can remember. All or most of the families we knew were also military families, so, even when we didn't move, it wasn't uncommon for the people we knew to move. As a result, my sister and I were pretty close - even when we fought, we at least knew we'd continue to be constants in each others' lives.

Like Fancy, I was less socially adept than my sister and was probably more attached to my family than was good for me. When my family finally settled down and my dad left the Army, my sister adjusted much better than I did. She made friends more easily, and I started to feel a little left behind. Some of the fights we had resembled fights Kit and Fancy had. Once I recognized the similarities between my relationship with my sister and Fancy's relationship with Kit, it was like being hit over the head with a board. I didn't want to see a part of myself in someone like Fancy, but there it was. I could feel for Fancy and want her to grow because I went through some of the same things. Which didn't actually mean that I liked her. To be honest, I didn't really like any of the characters in this book. I'm still glad I read it, though, and I'm looking forward to reading the first one, Bleeding Violet. Portero is an interesting place.

This book definitely isn't for everyone. Kit and Fancy are not comfortable characters, and it's not very clear what Reeves wants readers to feel about what they do. On the one hand, they do terrible things to people and yet, on the other hand, their actions are given the support of most Porterenes because they remove the more mundane dangers in a town that already has more than enough supernatural danger. This book turned out to be a good, if uncomfortable, fit for me because I could relate to Fancy's coming of age journey and because I found Portero in general to be fascinating. Whether readers like this book or not, I do think it would make for incredible book club fodder.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Darkly Dreaming Dexter (book) by Jeff Lindsay; Dexter (live action TV series) - By day, Dexter is a blood spatter pattern analyst for the Miami police department. By night, he is a serial killer who kills those that the law will never punish. His choice of victims isn't due to any personal convictions but is rather something that was instilled in him by his foster father, Harry. Those who'd like something else in which the protagonist is a serial killer whose killings may be seen as falling into a gray area might want to try this. The TV series becomes considerably different from the books after the first season, and TV Series Dexter is much more human-seeming than Book Dexter. However, Book Dexter is enjoyable in his own right and Lindsay somehow makes Dexter's "voice" appealing despite his actions. Strangely, although I didn't really like Fancy, I like both Book and TV Series Dexter.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (live action TV series) - Funnier and considerably less gory than Slice of Cherry, but if there are any readers of Reeves' book who still haven't seen this show, they might want to try it if they'd like more small town supernatural weirdness. The town of Sunnydale is built on top of the Hellmouth, so it's not uncommon for its residents to go missing or be killed - although no one but Buffy, her Watcher, and her closest friends knows the truth about everything that's going on. Unlike Porterenes, the residents of Sunnydale are masters of denial.
  • Eureka (live action TV series) - Again, this show is more humorous than Reeves' book, but it still might be good for those longing for more small town weirdness. Like Porterenes, everyone in town is perfectly aware of what the town is like and how dangerous it can be. Nearly every single resident of the small, secret town of Eureka is a genius scientist, and sometimes their experiments go awry in spectacular, world/town/person-destroying ways. The town's new sheriff isn't a genius, but he's got something Eureka could probably use more of - common sense. Plus, he's an all-around nice guy.
  • Ender's Game (book) by Orson Scott Card - This one is totally a stretch - I tried to find something besides Dexter and Jeff Lindsay's books that featured an anti-hero and might be something that fans of Slice of Cherry might like, and I kept coming up with nothing. Searches for "YA fiction" and "anti-hero" got me lots of Artemis Fowl, but Artemis wasn't the kind of anti-hero I was looking for - I wanted someone darker. So, I'm listing Ender's Game. It's been ages since I last read this book, and I don't think Ender was necessarily an anti-hero, but he does, by accident and because situations force him to, do terrible things. In this science fiction book, Ender and a bunch of other young children are selected for training at a special elite Battle School.

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