Fiction - Horror
228 Pages
Reviewed on 05/14/2024
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite

Insides by Jerry Underhill revolves around Tommy Wheeler, a down-and-out middle-ager who embarks on a spontaneous journey to Estonia's Merkowitz Manor, intending to document his adventure-seeking social media fame. As he starts to move through the abandoned manor, it's initially all eerie silence and dusty rooms, and he's only haunted by his troubled past. Tommy descends deeper, where fireplaces with hidden levers remind him of Christmas and secret passages leading to an underground church remind him of a regrettable incident involving a sex toy. German writing, wooden carved statues, and downward staircases suspiciously devoid of decay intersperse with his mind wandering to the sorry state of his life. As Tommy ventures deeper there is evidence of violence, and the labyrinth of rooms and halls is only matched by the network of people, sounds, and other chimera that may or may not be figments of his imagination.

“My boy, we are pilgrims in an unholy land,” he whispered in his best Sean Connery impression...” Insides is a clever work of horror by Jerry Underhill, and what begins as a story laden with sarcasm and intelligent wit gets much, much darker as he goes further underground. Underhill uses Tommy's internal thoughts and reflections to provide as much insight into his psyche and emotional state as he does to all that surrounds him. Tommy's quest for significance and his willingness to confront darkness and danger in pursuit of his goals go hand in hand with Underhill's effective use of symbolism, like a cave being depicted as a womb, a cocoon, and a sanctuary, symbolizing safety and rebirth. The story is not told in the first person but somehow the feeling of an unreliable narrator still comes through. I wasn't sure who I could trust; definitely not Tommy, but not so much the narrator either. What this does is make us wonder if this is entirely happening in Tommy's mind or if it is really happening. In the end, we find out, and it's just brilliant. Very highly recommended.