I seldom write book reviews. When I do, it’s because I’ve been unusually surprised, impacted, or inspired by a text. In the reading of Joshua Rex’s novella The Inamorta, I experienced all three of these reactions.
As I am not generally a fan of speculative fiction, which is Rex’s preferred genre, I chose to read Inamorta more out of curiosity than out of enthusiastic interest, for although he has spent the majority of his adult life on the East Coast, Rex was born in my hometown of Sandusky, Ohio, and is the son of a classmate (Suzi Weyer). What I discovered, however, was a writer of profound depth and extraordinary intelligence, who has meticulously researched his subject matter to pen a haunting narrative that will not soon escape my thoughts. In fact, I became so engrossed in the story that I completed the 130-page text in what was more-or-less a single sitting.
Rather than provide a summary of my own invention, what follows is the plot synopsis lifted from the back cover of Inamorta:
November 1799. Jonas Layne, the acclaimed “world’s greatest violist,” who performs on a notorious viola known as Inamorta, whose previous owners all have succumbed to violent fates, begins keeping a journal. He is weary of the touring life and plagued by a terrifying nightmare of a monstrous wolf. When Jonas and his father/piano accompanist Theodore are commissioned by the enigmatic Count Rufis Canis, they travel to his residence, Teethsgate Castle, in the hinterland. Teethsgate is eccentrically opulent and grandiose, but things there are not as they seem. Something ghostly clings to the castle and its bizarre family. In Larmes Harbor, the decrepit village south of the castle, people are disappearing, and the Count’s seductive daughter, Daeva, has a fearful and powerful secret which will force Jonas to confront one of his own – and the reality that his nightmare might be more premonition than dream.
More homage than imitation, any reader of The Inamorta who possesses a familiarity with the prose of Edgar Allan Poe will recognize the early American master’s influence on Rex and the novella. The story’s setting, the omnipresence of the supernatural, the foreboding mood, the use of an unreliable narrator, the emotional weight, the relatively brief length, and most significantly, the literariness of the story all speak to Poe’s influence on Rex’s ornate style. Echoes of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry James, two additional great American dark romantics, also reverberate throughout The Inamorta.
Rex’s diction is exquisite and a true joy for any lover of language. However, his esoteric word choices should not be perceived as an attempt by the author merely to flex his lexiconic muscles, which are formidable, but to reflect the speech patterns of the sophisticated nobles from a bygone era who people the novel. Coupling his diction with a masterful command of sentence structures is instrumental to Rex’s successful transportation of the reader to the late eighteenth century and phantasmagoric world of Teethsgate Castle.
Some readers of popular contemporary fiction – which often sacrifices depth of setting and characterization and the inclusion of detail in preference for fast-paced plotting – may find the diction, syntax, and exhaustive descriptions to be too difficult, even off putting for their taste. To them, I say reading Rex’s prose is similar to acquiring a taste for fine wine. Their patience will be rewarded with an appetite for more texts of high literary value and with an ever-increasing ability to appreciate such texts’ superiority, especially in comparison to the majority of prosaic and formulaic works of mass market fiction that appear on bestseller lists. None of this focus on form is meant to diminish the quality of the plot itself as it was described above. Occasionally, violent and sexual scenes occur, but they are artistically rendered, never gratuitous, and always impactful on the characters and vital for the reader’s investment in the story. Finally, rare is the modern novel that relies so heavily upon or so successfully engages the reader’s senses, imagination, and emotions to the degree of Inamorta.
Joshua Rex is a writer’s writer, a prose perfectionist whose devotion to and mastery of his craft is deserving of wide admiration and a mass audience. I highly recommend that you enter the fantastical realm he creates in The Inamorta.
In addition to The Inamorta, Rex is the author of New Monsters, The Coffin Maker’s Book of Dark Tales, The Descent and Other Strange Stories, A Mighty Word, and What’s Coming for You. In addition, he is the host of The Night Parlor, an eclectic podcast on which he “interviews authors, musicians, artists, historians, and others.”
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