Original Version                                                                                   Updated Version   

First published back in June of 2012, ‘Bottled Abyss’ formed US author Benjamin Kane Ethridge’s second full-length novel to be published.  An updated and preferred version of the novel was later rereleased in April of 2015 by Horrific Tales Publishing.  This review is of the updated version.

DLS Synopsis:
Ever since their two-year-old daughter, Melody, had been killed by a speeding getaway car, Herman and Janet Erikson’s lives had been plummeting downwards into an abyss of spiralling depression.  Janet had continued in gaining weight whilst succumbing to the numbing draw of alcoholism.  Herman hadn’t fared much better – wrapping himself up in a rag of worthless self-loathing and despair whilst pushing himself through endless hours of work each day.

And then to top it all off, their Border-Collie, Lester, goes missing.  In her alcohol induced daze, Janet cares little for the disappearance of the dog.  However, Herman still clings to the love and companionship that Lester offers; and so, goes out into the Southern Californian wasteland that stretched outwards from behind their tired and rundown property.

Searching across the desolate expanse of desert, Herman eventually hears the pained howls of Lester, drawing him to the mouth of an abandoned old mining cave where he witnessed two starved coyotes circling his blood-soaked dog.  Herman is able to fend the coyotes off, but his dog looks in a bad way.  Unsure what to do or how to care for his dying companion, Herman cradles Lester in his arms, feeling the dog’s life blood flowing out.  And it’s at this moment of utter desperation that an old man appears from nowhere, hobbling across the desert ground using an old wooden oar as a walking stick.  Seeing the suffering in Herman’s eyes, the old man offers what assistance he can.  And in doing so, produces an elaborate bottle which he declares contains liquid morphine to ease the pain of his own ailments.

After allowing a few drops of the elixir to fall into the wounded dog’s mouth, Herman is even more unnerved when Lester instantly vomits and then coughs up an old coin with worn edges and an imprint resembling the skull of a dog in the centre.  Stooping down to collect the coin, the old man bids Herman luck with his dog and leaves with coin in hand.  Turning back to Lester, Herman finds his dog, having only minutes ago been close to death, now somehow on the way to a full recovery.

However, what Herman doesn’t know is that, in coming to this abandoned spot in the Badlands, he has stumbled upon the border between the Living World and the Dead.  When the ancient gods died, the vast channel of collected despair known as the River Styx had dried up.  But a bottle containing the last drops of its waters still remains.  An elaborate bottle which offered the chance to deter death and pass it on to whoever took the coin from its owner.

And so when Janet becomes seriously ill, Herman thinks back to what he witnessed out in the Badlands.  He remembers what the contents of the bottle were capable of.  And in sheer desperation he has a thought.  He leaves the hospital and he leaves his unconscious wife behind, and returns to the dusty wastelands in search of the bottle and the old man who kept its secret.  The old man he knows nothing about.  The old man he plans to take the bottle from.  The Ferryman…

DLS Review:
What Ethridge offers up with ‘Bottled Abyss’ is a novel encased in a showy cloak of darkness and despair – marrying ancient Greek mythology with a modern-day backdrop.  It’s cold and bitter and brimming over with pretty much every negative emotion under the dying sun.  And so for a horror novel, it already has its hands firmly in the fetid guts of the dark stuff that makes for a hauntingly grim read.

I kid you not, there is absolutely no part of this tale which won’t make you feel utterly sombre and downright depressed.  If woeful were a tale then this would be it.  Stick on Burzum’s ‘Filosofem’ (1996), dim the lights to a whisper of illumination, and immerse yourself in a tale that brings misery and unrelenting bleakness to a new level.

Ethridge writes in a way faintly reminiscent to John Shirley, although with perhaps more attention put towards a gloomy, almost poetic prose.  Indeed, Ethriddge’s delivery more often than not dances around a build-up in atmosphere rather than going straight for a quick-and-fast delivery of what is transpiring.

There’s a wealth of skill within Ethridge’s lyrical writing style, in his conviction to stay wallowing in an abyss of misery, and in his constant reflection of the human psyche and our inherent weaknesses.  There’s no denying that the man can’t write.  But it’s a grim and depressing blanket that he chooses to cast over his tale.  It’s almost as if he wants us to keep reaching for the alcohol, to drown away the endless gloominess that we find ourselves being guided through.

Nevertheless, from out of this bleak quagmire, a strange and engaging story somehow arises, with a decidedly Clive Barker meets John Shirley meets Greek Mythology backbone to it.  It’s a strange and oddly unsettling blend that has its spurts of action along with adrenaline-pumping scenes of tension; but still keeps itself firmly footed within that nest of all-encompassing despair.

But what’s perhaps most impressive about the novel is that it’s so much more than a horror novel that marries styles together.  As I’ve already said, Ethridge is a man who can write bloody well.  His story whispers of an unsettling intelligence and an underlying provocation to explore inner territories you would perhaps rather left unexplored.  It’s also a cold novel, not only in its purposeful delivery, but also in its lack of allowing the characters to reach the end of their individual character arches.  There’s this continuing sense of never reaching the final goal.  In never fulfilling a truly desired destiny.  In always falling short.

A barrel of laughs this novel is not.  But compelling, engaging, and worryingly thought-provoking it most certainly is.  If you want to sit back and watch your soul be carted off into a gloomy abyss, where the endless echoes of the lost consume your every thought – then this is probably the story for you.  There are more scenes of darkness, misery and despair, and more human negativity in this one novel than in a lifetime’s worth of reading best-selling horror novels.  If you choose to go down the dark path of ‘Bottled Abyss’, just make sure you have a loved one to pull you out of the gloom at the other end.

The novel runs for a total of 302 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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