The Unreprinted: Tricycle by Russell Rhodes

Today’s installment of Ben Arzate’s The Unreprinted comes from Silent Motorist staff writer Zakary McGaha who has found himself an out-of-print genre paperback whose book jacket deserves to be remembered if nothing else. In McGaha’s own words, “It may very well have my favorite 80s skeleton cover…although I think Wild Violets by Ruth Baker Field wins out.” Read on to find out just why some horror novels deserve to remain buried…

Look at that cover! How could anyone resist it? The winter-clothed skeleton boy riding toward you out of the darkness…it’s simply beautiful. If I would’ve been around in the 80s, I would’ve snagged this thing off the drugstore rack, ran home and devoured it in a night.

Well, maybe I wouldn’t have…the problems with this book start when you open it.

To sum it up succinctly, Tricycle suffers from an overall lack off self-awareness that borders on insanity. I found myself thinking, “Is it possible to be that fucking lame and not be depressed about it?”

All of the characters were preppy, overly-dramatic academics trapped in a plot that refused to go anywhere. Chiefly, Rhodes was going for more of a mystery/psych-thriller ordeal, but the whole thing felt sloppy and uninspired.

That’s not to say it was without its high points, but I felt like opportunities were missed. I like to think of those missed opportunities as being intentional in this way: So these readers want to read about a skeleton-boy riding around a prep school on a tricycle, bringing death and destruction with him wherever he goes, do they, thought Russell Rhodes. Ha! I’ll thwart them by making them listen to the headmaster talk about virtues and the main character lament about life in academia! With this plan I will dull the souls of my readers, harvest their minds, and rule the world!!!!

Most of the book felt this way, sadly. However, there were a few scenes that stood out, as well as a few subplots that kept things interesting.

One compelling aspect of the story dealt with the main character, Christopher. You see, Christopher was an Ivy League Master of English Lit…before he lost his eyesight in a tragic accident. I don’t know about you, but blindness is my greatest fear. I simply don’t know how anyone could go on without their eyesight.

Reading about Christopher dealing with this and even managing to teach English was pretty intriguing from a character study perspective. However, there were still a lot of missed opportunities with this.

For the most part, Christopher was entirely unsympathetic, he was a jerk to everyone who tried helping him, and most of the insight we got into him coping with blindness dealt with the material world. I mean, for someone whose life revolved around literature, it seemed as if he didn’t care that stinking, no-good audiobooks were where his future lied. He was more concerned with how other people perceived him.

I would say the most interesting part of the story dealt with Karen, the wife of the head of the English department and the mother of the maniacal, tricycle-riding boy from the cover who, sadly…wasn’t skeletal.

Karen grew up in Germany around the time of Nazism. Her brother was about as crazy as Hitler and may, or may not, have fathered Simon (the non-skeletal rugrat). Karen’s husband, of course, never caught on to that, but it was a constant source of mystery. It also provided 98% of the darkness one would expect going into Tricycle. Incest, rape, and abuse fueled the story’s darkness, for the most part.

In a pathetically pulled-off way, Tricycle was a slasher novel. You see, Karen was constantly cheating on her husband with underage schoolboys who reminded her of her fucked-in-the-head brother, and little Simon didn’t take too kindly to that. Things got even spicier when it was revealed that Christopher looked exactly like Karen’s brother.

I don’t want to spoil anything because, trust me, there are a lot of twists and turns in Tricycle’s plot. Were those twists and turns that surprising? Sort of. Were they handled well? Nope.

On any normal day, Tricycle would be a two-star book. Seeing as how this is a normal day, that’s exactly what I’m giving it. That being said, if today wasn’t normal, I would give Tricycle an extra half-star for one scene: blind ole Christopher is trapped in a room with a bunch of escaped, venomous snakes. This was, perhaps, the only cool scene in the book. Even the scene where the school is flooding and people are trying not to be washed away wasn’t cool.

This whole novel, aside from the cover and the snake scene, wasn’t cool.

2/5 stars.

Zakary McGaha is a writer living in Tennessee. His novella Locker Arms is out from Kensington Gore Publishing. Soothing the Savage Swamp Beast will be out soon from JournalStone.