After trying this new horror writer, and that one, after disappointment after disappointment, I finally discovered a new genre author to love.

Jimmy Juliano seemed to pop up out of nowhere. He didn't, of course. Juliano was a Reddit author, which means almost nothing to me. I'm willfully ignorant of most of the social platforms out there. His novel, an astonishing debut called Dead Eleven, is now out from a major publisher. It's the book I've been pining for.

Dead Eleven is nostalgic, but also strikingly fresh. I couldn't resist the premise: The mother of a deceased boy is stuck in endless routine. She discovers a clue to an island off the shores of Wisconsin. Her marriage dead, her career over, she decides to visit the town to find out if there is a connection to her son's death.

Clifford Island is shrouded in mystery. There is little to find online about it, and the inhabitants behave in a strange manner. They watch the O.J. Simpson police chase over and over again. There are no cell phones. The citizens watch VHS tapes. Something ugly resides beneath the placid surface of the island.

Dead Eleven has an unconventional structure. Told in a partially expository style, it jumps from the present to times in the past as the dreadful secrets of Clifford Island are unveiled. Rather than cause confusion, the novel's disjointed narrative is compelling. There are several well-developed characters, but the island is the main focus of the story.

The best fiction works as metaphor, and Dead Eleven serves as a cautionary tale about the perils of living too deeply in the past. Juliano, with precision and grace, paints a canvas of people clinging to the comforts of days gone by to stave off the pratfalls of the present and the future.

But Dead Eleven isn't some murky, lifeless mood piece. It's a true horror novel. A classic small town story seen through a modern lens.

Best of all, Jimmy Juliano doesn't wallow in the same socio-political cliches as so many others are doing.

Dead Eleven hit me particularity hard. I'm known as the nostalgia guy, after all. I need a jolt like this now and then to smack me back to the present.

This isn't merely one of the best horror novels of the year. Dead Eleven is one of the best so far in this decade.

Written by Mark Sieber

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