Greg F. Gifune
Cemetery Dance Publications (December 2023)
Reviewed by Andrew Byers
Greg F. Gifune’s God Machine is a haunting and atmospheric exploration of personal and cosmic horror that lingers in the mind long after the final page. Set against the backdrop of a decaying New England town, the narrative unfolds with a sense of foreboding and existential dread, immersing readers in a world where the boundaries between the known and the unknowable blur.
The plot follows protagonist Chris Tallo, a former cop who is now a motel security guard whose life has been on a downward spiral after his daughter’s death in Iraq. Chris has struggled to cope with this loss, and that trauma has forced Chris to grapple with mental illness and alcohol abuse. (Like so many of Gifune’s protagonists, Chris has had a hard life and has not always sought the best coping mechanisms for dealing with unresolved trauma.) The book kicks off with a terrible new trauma that Chris experiences: a young woman, probably a sex worker, checks in late one night and then kills herself in the room in an especially gruesome way. No one, least of all Chris, can make sense of what happened. He personalizes the case—obsesses over it actually—especially since the young woman was the same age as his daughter would have been and begins investigating it on his own. Despite being repeatedly warned off from pursuing his investigation along the way, Chris finds that the young woman had gotten caught up with a group of very, very bad people. And that’s when Chris uncovers a malevolent force known as the God Machine. Gifune’s narrative masterfully weaves together elements of psychological horror and supernatural intrigue, keeping readers on the edge of their seats as they navigate the labyrinthine secrets of the town.
Gifune’s prose is evocative and atmospheric, creating a vivid sense of place that enhances the overall eerie ambiance of the story. The decaying town itself becomes a character, with its dilapidated buildings and whispered secrets contributing to the oppressive atmosphere that permeates every chapter.
The characters in God Machine are intricately crafted, including, most importantly, Chris, each haunted by personal demons and grappling with the inexorable pull of forces beyond their control. Chris’s emotional journey is particularly compelling, as he confronts not only the horrors of the God Machine and those surrounding it but also the shadows of his own past. The supporting cast adds depth to the narrative, with each character contributing to the overall sense of unease and impending doom. To say that Chris must dig deep into the seedy underbelly of his community doesn’t really do the book justice.
One of the novel’s strengths lies in Gifune’s ability to merge the cosmic and the intimate. The God Machine, an incomprehensible device (entity?), serves as a backdrop for the more personal horrors faced by the characters. This dual narrative approach adds layers of complexity to the story, creating a multifaceted and deeply resonant experience. I would have liked to see more of the God Machine itself; what we see is intriguing, but because it only enters the book at the climax, it comes across as a bit of a MacGuffin, but it’s nevertheless compelling.
As the tale unfolds, Gifune’s exploration of existential themes becomes increasingly pronounced. The narrative delves into the nature of belief, loss, grief, fragility, mortality, and the terrifying prospect of confronting the unknown. God Machine’s theological underpinnings and meditations on both grief and failed coping mechanisms for trauma elevate it beyond conventional horror, inviting readers to contemplate the profound implications of cosmic forces on the human psyche.
God Machine is a chilling and thought-provoking work of cosmic horror blended with the personal. With its richly developed characters and evocative prose—Gifune’s trademarks—he delivers a tale that resonates on both visceral and intellectual levels. For those seeking a psychological and atmospheric exploration of cosmic terror, God Machine is a captivating and haunting journey into the heart of the unknown. Definitely recommended.
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