Rating: 4 Stars
Age Recommendation: 16+
Warnings: Violence, Strong Language. Potential triggers for those living with or caring for those with mental illnesses.
Genres: Horror, Thriller, Mystery
Pages: 102 (paperback, given to me in exchange for a review)
“I have power here. That’s why I didn’t want him showing you what’s upstairs, I didn’t want you messing this up for me… too late for that now, ain’t it?”
“It’s a shame your God doesn’t share everyone else’s love for you.”
Dean Moses’s novella, A Stalled Ox, is a story of about one hundred pages that follows a piece of Howard Harrington’s life as he takes on a new investigation. He is a detective, going undercover to look into a cult that worships a character who calls himself “God,” because the members are said to eat meat in a time where there isn’t any on the market. After injectable enhancements created a genetic disease and killed off livestock all over the world, the United States has started trying to find a solution, protecting the last of each animal to no avail. Howard’s investigation proves that “God” and his flock are much more dangerous than they ever expected.
Howard and his detective partner, Linda, aren’t quite sure what to expect upon arrival, and Howard isn’t exactly known for having a great track record when it comes to jobs. Linda is a strong female character, though the reader is given a chance to see her vulnerable side as well, which made her feel even more realistic and tangible.
The descriptions were not lyrical or drawn out in any way, but I don’t feel that they needed to be or should have been. Instead, they matched the feeling of the novella as a whole – stark, brief, but powerful nonetheless. My main problem when it came to the writing had to do with Howard’s thoughts throughout. They were used to explain the back story of this version of the United States after 2020 when the animals began dying off. Those moments felt awkward and pulled me out of the story, but there weren’t very many of these expositional sections from him.
Though short, A Stalled Ox takes on a multitude of social themes and problems that are prevalent in today’s world. The protagonist is the epitome of ‘diversity,’ as an LGBT, Black/Hispanic character. I could say more about him, but I’ve no intention of spoiling anything. I do want to say, however, that the diverse aspects of Howard are not the entire focus of the story, but instead help to tackle the themes brought up within the novel.
The writing, in my opinion, took some time to get into and to fully understand. It oftentimes felt a little calculated or distancing, but I think that sometimes one has to look at something from a distance to truly understand the intention behind it or the strength that it holds. This story is powerful in ways that I honestly didn’t realize it would be when I first received it.
A Stalled Ox is a timely story that many would be able to appreciate in today’s world. It’s graphic at times, as is fitting for the genre, but not to the extent that I felt uncomfortable reading it. It was a quick read, which only took me a couple of hours while I was on the train, and surprised me with each chapter. I am not usually a reader of the horror or thriller genres, but I’m very glad that I picked this one up.