Thrift Store Finds–Analog Books. Digital Reviews.
I find a lot of horror novels at thrift stores. Instead of letting them languish on the shelf, I’ve decided to start a little series called “Thrift Store Finds” to share these gems with you.
What does a young mother, a religious zealot, and the weirdest explanation for a man-beast have in common? Who the hell knows, but they all found their way into Edward Levy’s 1981 novel, The Beast Within.
This novel was given to me by a friend who is equally as interested in weird and bad unique and under-appreciated horror novels as I am. As he handed it over he said, “This book is basically just a straight exploitation movie in book form.”
Boy was he right.
The Beast Within is a story that begins and ends multiple times, taking a right turn after every ending before starting out in a new direction. If that sentence was as confusing as I think it might be, let me give you this analogy:
Remember those golden-age The Simpsons episodes from the 90s where the first five minutes would be about an inciting incident that ended up having nothing to do with the story’s main conflict? If you’re not sure, look up “Lisa the Tree Hugger”, sometimes referred to as the “This Log is Your Log” episode.
That episode, which ends with a spectacular musical performance and an unstoppable log adorned with a facsimile of Lisa’s head, began with Bart getting a job hanging menus on doors so that he could earn enough money to get a new game console.
Edward Levy’s novel takes a similarly serpentine path, and as strange as it may sound, that was the aspect of the book that I liked the most.
I can’t help it. As a life-long story consumer and creator, I’m tuned in to narrative formats, which means that I can often guess the outcome of a story before the final act.
Levy’s directional changes kept the story fresh, picking me up out of a scene and dropping me into the next set of actions without much warning. Right when I thought I was getting to know a setting and its characters–boom would go the dynamite–and Levy would surprise again. Leaving me to exclaim out loud, “Oh, it’s that kind of story?”
This tale might begin with an old religious fanatic farmer and his sad young bride with an eye for new companionship, but it definitely doesn’t end there. And if you’ve ever been told that this is a werewolf story (as some edition’s back cover copy states), you’ve been led astray. It’s kind of not really about that at all…kind of.
This is fantastic trash, written with just the right amount of sex, gore, and gross-outs to be easily entertaining. Do not pick up this book if you’re looking for literary enlightenment. Do not pick up this book if you’re uneasy with violence against women (as with many early 80s horror novels, this one comes with a trigger warning). Do not pick up this book if you want any sort of depth in character or themes.
Pick up this book if you want a fast-paced little novel filled with extreme characters making shocking choices and some hand waving over a few illogical plot points.
The Beast Within is a roller coaster ride in a trash compactor of bottom-of-the-barrel fun.