Review: Body of Christ by Mark Matthews

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a genre, horror is as old as mankind. We've been scaring the hell out of each other as a species for as long as we have been a species at all, and plenty of these stories have been influenced by, or act in response to, the religious beliefs of various groups. In fact, The Bible may be one of the most willfully misread genre pieces to ever come along. Here's a book where the supposed good guy drowns the entire world, killing men, women, and children alike, oftentimes in blind anger and jealous rage. There's demons, zombies, talking snakes, crucifixions, murders galore, all sorts of taboo sexual shenanigans, and a cult of believers who pray for, anticipate, and desire the apocalyptic End of Days while practicing ritualistic pseudo-cannibalism en masse. Yeah, The Bible sounds a hell of a lot like a horror story to me, even if it somehow gives a whole lot others some kind of hope. I don't know what Mark Matthews personal beliefs are, but even if he is a religious man he has certainly tapped into the darker aspects of religious occultism and supernatural forays, and how those beliefs can shape young minds, to give us a beautiful work of Christian horror.

Keagan's mother is a religious fanatic. She misses no opportunity to let her teenage boy know he is a doomed sinner on his way to Hell. She extolls the virtues of communion, and believes that the only thing that can save her child's soul is for him to eat the flesh of Jesus and drink His blood. Keagan is also a collector of oddities, and after witnessing the murder of his father he manages to discreetly save some chunks of his daddy's flesh.

Faith, an apt name for this pious believer, is struggling from the death of her mother while learning to cope with her own body's transformation into womanhood. She can hear the screams of the dead, and each month, riding out on a flow of blood, are the gnashing torments of the lives that could have been. Like Keagan's fleshy souvenir of his father, what Faith does with her used sanitary napkins is her own secret.

Body of Christ is a deeply fucked-up work, and, needless to say, I loved it! Matthews imbues the entirety of this short novella with a sense of creeping dread, and plenty of wonderfully ill descriptions. He captures the horror central to the root of Christian mythology, and the insidious ways the fervent faithful's blind beliefs undermines and twists one's love for their own children, or sets child against parent, in scarily recognizable ways. While this is a dark work to be sure, Matthews injects a few moments of much appreciated levity along the way, such as during Keagan's first communion when the boy briefly wonders what part of Jesus is in his mouth.

For as dark and pitch-blackly humorous as it is, Body of Christ carries with it, too, moments of sweet compassion and glimmers of hope. You just gotta have faith.

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Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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