Paul reviews The Erstwhile Tyler Kyle, a standalone Horror Comedy by Steve Hugh Westenra.
An ecopy was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
|Date of Publishing:||October 13 2023|
|Trigger Warnings:||All of them|
A washed-up thirty-year-old actor and reluctant cryptid investigator, Tyler is used to playing the Scully to his best friend Josh’s Mulder on their stupidly popular YouTube channel. But when Tyler receives previously unseen footage of the B movie bombshell mother who abandoned him eighteen years ago—footage linked to an isolated island in the Canadian wilderness—the mystery is one conspiracy he’s determined to investigate. The fact that following the scent gives Tyler an excuse to run away from the “straight” Josh, whom he drunkenly made out with, is just the cherry on the shit sundae.
But Echo Island isn’t what it seems. Its eerily scenic veneer hides a twisted secret buried in its roots as a gay conversion camp, and as Tyler retraces his mother’s footsteps, he discovers a supernatural connection between the residents and the island—one they seem to think Tyler and his mother share.
Even worse, the footage of Tyler’s mom came from someone on the island–a stalker whose obsessive fascination with both Tyler and Josh is about to make Tyler wish he hadn’t gone this one alone. Puppeteered by his stalker, searching for his mother, and debating whether it’s possible to queerbait yourself, Tyler comes to realize that it doesn’t matter so much whether you believe in monsters, if they believe in you.
THE ERSTWHILE TYLER KYLE is an adult horror comedy for fans of GHOST FILES, BUZZFEED UNSOLVED, and TWIN PEAKS.
“I let out a breath I knew I was holding.
(Tee Hee Hee)”
My immediate thought when finishing The Erstwhile Tyler Kyle, other than ‘that was mind-blowing’, was ‘how the fuck do I review this?’ Because as a book and character, Tyler Kyle is so unique and so very different to anything else that I’ve read, I really did find myself just staring at a blank page, brow furrowed, thanks to some pretty dank review constipation.
(Apologies to author Steve Hugh Westenra for using the word constipation in the first paragraph of the review.)
Hours of willing words to form yielded only one coherent sentence:
“The Erstwhile Tyler Kyle is a fourth-wall-breaking, genre-defying, hot mess of a masterpiece.” – as a TLDR, it’s pretty effective and highly accurate.
The synopsis references Ghost Files, Buzzfeed Unsolved, and Twin Peaks, which are all absolutely applicable, but I’d throw a few more in there for good effect: Creepy Pasta mixed with Dragula and perhaps even a dash of an R-rated McGyver. Beyond any clumsy comparisons I can offer, the book itself is a perfect blend of so many genres: horror, comedy, mystery, romance, smut, and family drama.
Westenra’s writing is zippy and lurid (in all the best ways possible). However, like its titular character, the irreverent zingers and almost breeziness of style belie a heart-rending level of depth and weight. For all the rabid slavering cryptids and ‘implied consumption of urine for survival purposes,’ the true horror here is the very real horror that the mind forms, like some dark pearl, around splinters of trauma. Given that there are so many aspects and angles at play as you careen down the slippery slope that is Echo Island, you’re unlikely to mine the vein dry on the first visit. It is a book that will reward, and truly deserves, multiple read-throughs to uncover all of its secrets.
Character work is equally wondrous, particularly our boi Tyler. He’s an unlikely main character and the most unreliable of narrators, but he is perfectly imperfect. A neurotic, garrulous mess, yet so honest and human. Like the duality of narrative and theme, Tyler is a seamless blend of comedy and tragedy. One second, he’s larger than life, a supernova of Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent, then perspective shifts, and he’s a Richard Siken poem made flesh, a roiling sea of shame and desire. Outside of Tyler, every other character puts in an absolute shift; if there were Oscars for books, this one would win ‘Best Ensemble Cast’ as well as a host of others.
The horror aspects are sublime, with Westenra sinking his fingers into many of the genre’s pies. You’ve got extreme body horror, folk horror, found footage (kinda), psychological, and even a soupçon of splatterpunk. There is a surfeit of atmosphere throughout, with the horror aspects marrying so well with the ever-increasing levels of tension, it’s very much a frog in boiling water situation as the plot starts to simmer around you. Tyler’s chaotic internal conversations work delightfully to distract you from what is truly important, all the while slapping you around the face with red herrings, making for a constantly surprising ride.
Now, I’m aware reading this back that I’ve perhaps made it sound too tragic and sad, ‘We wanted Caddyshack, Paul, and you’ve given us Marley and Me,’ well worry not fair reader, this one is funny, rib-fucking-tickling. I laughed so much throughout. This is the first book I read on my new Kindle Scribe, and I took great pleasure in handwriting ‘Tee Hee Hee’ everywhere. The dialogue is crackling with snark and wit, and the situations that the characters find themselves in are almost always ludicrously bizarre; plus, it is dripping with the most amazing pop-culture references that brought me smiles innumerable #BrundleFly.
For me, The Erstwhile Tyler Kyle is a book that seemingly came out of nowhere and has ended up being one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s one that I genuinely have no qualms about recommending to everyone; it’s pure brilliance and has everything that you could wish for, along with perfect construction and delivery.
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