Books: The Funhouse by Matt Shaw & 100% Match by Patrick C. Harrison III

As with most things that happen in regards to my book and movie review posts and videos, the way I ended up reading and discussing these two particular books was completely random. Both books popped up in my Kindle Unlimited recommendations, and both caught my eye for various reasons. I had never read anything by either author before (at least that I remember), and I actually didn’t realize before diving into them that they were both novellas, so I figured I would combine them into one review, since not only were they both quite short, but they also shared a vaguely similar theme of a man looking for love and having things go horribly wrong, though the approach of the stories was quite different. I will say, though, that both of these books are what I would classify as somewhat “extreme” horror; they’re not among the sickest of the sick, and the first one is more on the gory end while the second one is more on the snot, shit, and vomit end, but if extreme horror isn’t your bag, then neither one of these books is going to be for you, so fair warning.

The first novella, clocking in at 97 pages (at least on the Kindle version) and published in 2022, is The Funhouse by Matt Shaw, a British author and cartoonist. The bulk of the action takes place around Halloween, so this would be a good, quick read around the spooky season, and though I liked the story well enough when I was reading it, I noticed it didn’t really stick with me all that much after I finished it.

The tale is told from the point of view of a guy named Jim, who just seems like an average English bloke with few distinguishing characteristics. He’s out on the dating scene, and at the very beginning of the story, he’s on a first date with a woman named Laura who he met online. Because her dating profile seemed to suggest she enjoyed the so-called finer things in life, Jim has booked their encounter at a swanky restaurant he can’t really afford.

Despite the hefty price tag, however, the date goes shockingly well, and Jim even discovers that Laura is presumably a Somebody, as the staff of the fancy restaurant all know her; it turns out she comes from a very wealthy, prominent family in town. Jim can’t believe his luck, and better still, Laura is clearly really into him. It all seems entirely too good to be true.

Well, surprise surprise, that indeed turns out to be the case…this is a horror story, after all. Jim and Laura’s relationship proceeds at a whirlwind pace and everything is just as perfect as can be; after only a little while, Jim buys a ring and decides to propose, even going so far as to go through the proper, old-fashioned rigmarole of asking Laura’s important father for her hand in marriage. Jim is anxious, but Laura’s dear old dad is all about the idea, even suggesting that Jim propose on Halloween, because it’s Laura’s favorite day of the year.

Laura, as it happens, has already invited Jim to a big, block-party-type Halloween shindig that her family hosts every year, so he figures he’ll pop the question there. The party is packed and everyone seems friendly; it’s a little weird, though, because there are all these really nice houses in the neighborhood and then there’s this one dilapidated, abandoned one for some unexplained reason. Shortly afterward, Jim begins feeling a little bit woozy…

As I said, this was a perfectly entertaining, bloody little slice of Halloween nastiness, with something of a game-style horror element, à la Ready or Not or Would You Rather or something along those lines. But because it’s so short, you don’t really get to know the characters enough to get entirely invested in the situation, and there isn’t a great deal of history or context to explain exactly how the circumstances Jim finds himself in came about. I think The Funhouse might have worked better as a longer piece, with more space for character development and world-building, because it’s a cool concept overall and could have used more detail; I wanted to know more about all this crazy shit that was going on, so it came across more as a teaser for a larger work than a complete, self-contained story.

Next on the agenda was a book that materialized in my recommendations after I finished The Funhouse, and I was immediately drawn to the weird-ass and slightly unsettling cover. 100% Match by Patrick C. Harrison III was also published in 2022, and is also under 100 pages. I actually laughed out loud when I looked at the reviews on GoodReads, because the author himself wrote the first terse review, giving his own book one star and writing, “This book is disgusting. The author should stick a fork in a socket.” I do love a horror writer with a good sense of humor.

Anyway, this novella is also on the more extreme end of the horror genre, though not so much gore and limb evisceration as in The Funhouse, but more low-key gross scenarios involving shitting in chili and making people eat it, funneling vomit down someone’s throat, that kind of thing. To me, that type of extreme horror is way more revolting than the over-the-top gory kind, so yeah, 100% Match did trigger my gag reflex a couple of times, not gonna lie.

Just as in the first book I talked about, 100% Match is told from the point of view of a young man seeking the love of a compatible woman. Our protagonist this time is Bartholomew Bartley, or just Bart for short, an overweight, balding fast food worker who lives alone after the death of his elderly mother, and is thinking of going back to school for his teaching certificate. Bart is obsessed with statistics, particularly in regards to dating; for example, he relates in the first line of the book, “0.001752% of relationships end in homicide.” There’s also the revelation that 69% of women prefer a dad bod to a super ripped dude, 98.3% of women don’t like being called fat, and 93% of Asian American women are married before they turn forty.

Bart is also something of a…quirky individual, let’s call it that. His hobbies include throwing cats into the street, drinking his own urine with a teabag in it, jerking off into the mayonnaise at work, and sticking his finger up his butt to help himself fall asleep. He also has no qualms at all about casually murdering someone if the situation arises…which it does, with some regularity. Everything he does is conveyed in a very unadorned, matter-of-fact prose, making the whole thing seem that much more disquieting, because you just know there are really freaks out there like this and this is exactly what I picture their day-to-day existence being like. To them, it would all seem very mundane, even though they’re obviously doing horribly depraved shit in between doing all of the regular-people things.

We spend some time with Bart, establishing his habits and lifestyle. And then, about a third of the way into the story, Bart meets an attractive young woman, seemingly quite by accident; she drops her wallet in the grocery store parking lot, Bart catches up to her to return it, and she’s so appreciative that she later tracks him down at the restaurant where he works and straight up asks him out.

Turns out her name is Sara, and Bart is immediately smitten. She seems completely ideal in every way, exactly what Bart is looking for. She’s charming, genuine, down to earth, and seems very interested in Bart’s life, background, and future plans. She tells him she makes instructional videos for a living, and after their first successful coffee date, she asks him for his phone number, clearly wanting to see him again, and as soon as the next day.

As I mentioned before in regards to The Funhouse, the whole situation is suspiciously perfect, and before too long, the reader finds out exactly what Sara’s deal is. I’ll admit I pretty much saw the ending coming, and you probably will too if you’re paying attention, but that didn’t hamper my enjoyment (if that’s the word) of 100% Match. Again, it’s pretty fucking gross, and Bart is a vile (but strangely compelling) main character, so how you feel about that is obviously going to affect how you react to the novella. Of the two books, this one made much more of a visceral impression and an emotional impact than the first one, but I liked both of them just fine, albeit for different reasons. As of this writing (May 2023), they’re both available to read for free on Kindle Unlimited, so give them a whirl if you’re into extreme horror and are looking for a couple of brief examples of the genre to kill an afternoon with. Save The Funhouse for Halloween, though.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.

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