Title: Gross Out
Author: Duncan Ralston
Release date: April 7th, 2022
I’ll say upfront, that Duncan and myself are friends. I’m a huge fan of his writing and he’s been a big supporter of a lot of authors (myself included).
BUT. (And this is a big but (You’re all welcome for that joke by the way!)). BUT – Duncan can sometimes be, let’s say… controversial. Maybe – maybe sometimes he posts or tweets something and it can make a large section of the online community a bit upset. Maybe, sometimes, he’ll post something and have a blog post written about him and then be blocked.
Whether you love the guy or not, one thing can’t be denied – he has a solid, feverish fan base, and recently his novel ‘Woom’ has exploded in popularity. I for one have absolutely loved seeing it. ‘Woom’ is an extreme-horror story, but one that explores a deeply broken character and the great lengths he goes to try and connect with someone, to find what has been missing his entire life.
When Ralston mentioned that ‘Gross Out’ would continue some of ‘Woom’s’ storyline, I was a bit worried. I didn’t want him to sully those characters (and I’ll discuss that a bit later), but he assured me it would work and people would be happy.
I have to say – having now read ‘Gross Out,’ Duncan has done something that not only is incredibly topical, but I think will grow to become a timeless piece of ‘Horror Community’ fiction. Not only is this story completely Meta, the reality will be that as you read this you’ll be wondering which character is based off of which real life author/reviewer, but also one that showcases the ebbs and flows that occur almost monthly within the dark fiction community.
The irony wasn’t lost on me that I read this story while both Scares That Cares AuthorCon was happening AND the Silver Shamrock Publishing implosion occurred (both on the same weekend).
What I liked: Now, ‘Gross Out’ is based around the idea of the Gross Out Contests that will happen at many conventions. In the past these have usually caused some mild ‘fallout’ where somebody goes too far or insults somebody to a level that they can’t laugh it off. As well, there’s been a few instances where somebody has had a routine SOOOOOO over the top that formal apologies are made and some publishers cease working with that individual.
That is the schtick or the reason that this book exists. It is the annual convention and a large group of authors are attending, for panel readings, book signings, marketing and at the very end – the Gross Out Contest.
There are essentially two main plot points within ‘Gross Out’ but numerous side characters. The first main plot follows Clay, disgraced author whose previous Gross Out Contest entry went sideways and had him banned, unpublished and losing friends left and right. One person who stays by him is Moira, a British author and over the last few years, they’ve made an emotional connection.
The second main plot point is several people (Clay included) who want to get revenge on best-seller David Ennis.
Within these two plots we get a lot of side angles and storylines, but fear not, Duncan handles each and within them we get a beginning, middle and ending. We get to see how each “side quest” plays out over the course of the three day weekend and for that, Ralston shows his ability in crafting both believable characters but also incredibly engaging storylines. It’s funny, as when each chapter switches to different characters you’ll be annoyed that we’re now following somebody else, but also excited to dive back into what is now happening with that character.
The ending is horrific, kind of expected based on the lead up, but also incredibly entertaining. The final event, the Gross Out Contest, finishes everything off and we get to see how all of the other plot lines get wrapped up and even gives us a bit of an allusion to what the fall out will be. Seeing Clay and Moira’s weekend come full circle was really great and those two were easily my favorite characters.
Lastly – I’ll just touch on the ‘Woom’ continuation. Those who can’t afford the hotel at the convention itself, all stay in the hotel featured in ‘Woom,’ which was a nice touch. Secondly, Clay has an encounter with the two main characters from ‘Woom’ (I want to keep this spoiler free) and learns about how they connected and what came next. It is really well done and Ralston handles it with the delicacy it deserves and I was hoping for.
What I didn’t like: As I said in the intro to this review, you either enjoy Ralston or don’t. If you’re a person who doesn’t, I think you’d still enjoy this book, love the commentary on the horror community in general and have a fun convention based story.
BUT (hey, another big but!) I can see this getting some people in a tizzy and offended, especially if they see themselves in any of these characters. While reading this, I actually messaged Duncan to ask if I was a particular Canadian author, and he assured me that I was not and that all of the characters are based on aspects of himself. Believe it if you will. Or not!
Why you should buy this: First – you don’t have to have read ‘Woom’ to read this. That book is summed up nicely within that part, so don’t let that deter you. Secondly, as I mentioned, Duncan has really crafted a well constructed book, one that feels both like a documentary but also a really well done satirical piece. For fans of his books, you’ll really love this one and for those who’ve not read him before, I think this is a really great spot to dive in. It shows how great of a writer Duncan is while also showcasing his humor and love of grossing people out.
Really, really great job.