F. E. Feeley Jr will be on WROTE to talk about Borderland later in the summer, so don’t miss it!
Okay, so on first reading the blurb, this book doesn’t sound like a whole barrel of laughs. Borderland is the story of a young married couple, but of the MC’s has a one-way ticket to the next realm, via a terminal cancer diagnosis. Their final journey to George’s home town is hindered by their car breaking down in a ferocious storm, just outside the gates of an old hotel, the Borderland. This hotel has all the elements of “don’t go there or you won’t come out,” but George and Jason have no choice. George is sick and needs looking after.
In less accomplished hands, this premise could turn into a horrible, excruciating mess, but the authors are none other than F E Feeley Jr (author of the majestic When Heaven Strikes and Hallelujah) and Jamie Fessenden, whose genres include the searing (Violated) and the cheeky (Bigfoot Hunters In Love.) That mix of spirituality, horror, gut-wrenching emotion and dark humour is just what a story like this needs. Cancer is a serious subject, and it is treated with respect., but it is married with a good dose of black comedy and genuine creeps.
After a slightly muddled start of their stay, George and Jason begin to twig that All Is Not As It Seems. There are some great visuals, from the pristine hotel turning to a cold dusty wreck and back again, to the guests being alive one moment and very dead the next. There is a hall of mirrors feel about the place, and a garden maze that never seems to end. The genteel owner of the hotel, Rebecca Thibault, is part-Mrs. Danvers/part-Mary Poppins, and Harry, the gardener, is a deceptively simple man who misses nothing. There are tiny dramas occurring amongst the staff, from the young couple who want to be together to the torrid three-way affair of a travelling theatre troupe. The way this story plays out is hideously sinister, with the two MC’s running down endless corridors filled with unearthly screams, being pursued by a demon whose goal is endless misery for guests past and present.
And yet… just read this.
It had been months, and now he needed this man—his lover, his husband—more than ever. He needed him to suspend time. Here in this moment, he wasn’t dying. Here in this moment, as they made love touched by the silver moonlight from the window, he was immortal.
It’s a tiny taste of which tells you all you need to know about the beauty of this book. The prose is beautiful, elegant, poignant and heartbreaking at times.
There are nods to the Eagles’ classic, Hotel California, and the plot also weaves in the Spanish Flu epidemic from 1920, together with colourful characters from the Jazz Age. It’s a glorious technicolour chase for the truth through a haunted house where the walls come alive and yawning pits will swallow the unwary. George and Jason are the unwitting witnesses to a drama which has been going on behind the fetid walls for decades, but their presence, their love and their sexuality is unnerving the inhabitants of the hotel and encouraging them to let go of the narratives they have held onto for a century.
I’ve never read a ghost story quite like this one before, but I’m so glad I took a chance on it. Despite the unlikely premise, the ending is curiously uplifting. Fessenden and Feeley make a formidable writing team and I hope they collaborate on another novel soon.
They were young.
In the prime of life and recently married.
And then the diagnosis came.
George and Jason make arrangements to travel back to George’s home state of Vermont so he may pass away in the town where he grew up, but a terrible storm diverts the couple into the gates of an out-of-the-way hotel called Borderland.
Sure, the employees are well dressed and polite. Sure, the food and entertainment are old-time fare. But it’s all a schtick, right?
Or is there something far more sinister at work here?
Welcome to the Borderland Hotel, where you may check in, but you’ll never, ever leave.