Grant Palmquist writes strange stuff. That is a compliment. In Feral Beauty we have a mixture of a predictable story at first, then a surprising twist, then an occult story. The writing is so good that even the predictable part is good because it is well written.
“More than anything, Stephanie Zeller wanted to be beautiful. Eighteen years of ugliness had worn her out.” (loc 47). With those two first lines, the predictable part provokes our expectations. Of course, she will not have a boyfriend. Charlie Hubbard talks to her but Stephanie is confident it is out of pity. For these two we don’t even think of sex. They don’t. Neither has experienced a first kiss, forget about the bases.
That is not true for a cabal of girls led by Kitty Martine. She has managed to experience all conventional sex and has moved on to bondage and amateur carving of some partners. Her friends Amber and Violet are similar in their use of dispensing sexual favors as condiments. Mick Norris is the high school varsity quarterback hero who can have any girl he wants at any time. True, he hasn’t been with Kitty yet but there is an inevitability about that.
Stephanie’s existence, her acne face, and the scrawny figure is an annoyance to the beautiful Kitty. Kitty and her friends bully Stephanie in very physical ways, such as fights in the bathroom. A similar thing happens to Charlie who suffers physical abuse from Mick. In this first part of the novel, physical violence occurs at ever increasing levels because the bullies cannot provoke reactions they want from the bullied. Stephanie and Charlie commiserate with each other about the senseless provocations they receive. At one point Stephanie has had enough and she reacts with vigor leaving scars on the face of the beautiful Kitty.
Kitty decides she must have revenge. Mick will be her instrument of revenge. Kitty tells mike to ask Stephanie on a date. The reader expects a prom erupting in blood and gore but this is not to be. Stephanie has seen that movie too and she refuses to go out with Mick. Mick is furious, how could any female resist him? Kitty is furious, how could any plan of hers not work? It’s time for Plan B.
And that is where the predictability ends. Things go horribly wrong. And the reader enters the realm of the occult. Charlie is dead, maybe. Stephanie is dead, maybe. Whatever their state is, the cause of it was actions by Kitty and Mick. Stephanie wants revenge and she is not going to let a minor thing like death stop her. This is the point where the descriptive writing becomes particularly good. The reader who loves immersion in horror and the occult completely with a surrogate Satan who offers choices will comfortably wallow in the detailed description of something that might be hell, might be purgatory, or might be something else.
And what of Mick and Kitty. Kitty is evolving before the reader as a cold, budding, novice psychopath. Mick is beginning to realize his position as a big fish in a small pond. And high school is over. He is suspicious that McDonalds might be his future. What of their futures?
They might not know. But Grant Palmquist does. And the reader will discover interesting concluding twists when they read this book.