Wow. What a wild and crazy ride. If, like myself, you've never read Tom Piccirilli before, then strap yourself in and make yourself comfortable, because What Makes You Die is going to make you supremely uncomfortable . . . while entertaining, of course.
On the surface, this is the story of a writer who has long since lost his grip on reality, and is only somewhat interested in regaining it. Tommy was once something of a success, selling a few novels and screenplays, and even shepherding their transition to the screen. Before long, however, life caught up with him, the money disappeared, and the work . . . well, it changed. By the end of his short-lived career, Zypho, his tentacled alien, had become fodder for a series of cheap porn movies, and he was spending more time in mental wards than in mansions.
This time, when he comes home from the ward, it's to find that his agent is excited about the first act of his latest screenplay - a screenplay Tommy has absolutely no memory of having written. Success is once against at his fingertips, just waiting for him to seize it, but he has no idea where the phantom story came from or where it is headed. The act of seeking out the story, however, forces him to confront the tragedy that has haunted his entire life. If he's ever going to get a grip on the story, first he as to get a grip on his lost memories of the night his childhood love was kidnapped, never to be seen again.
It's a powerful story, almost as chilling as it is fascinating. Tommy is an interesting guy, eccentric, passionate, and deeply troubled. He doesn't always make the best choices, but those choices do lead him down some interesting avenues (or rabbit holes, as the case may be). Falling in love with an honest-to-gosh witch is not the strangest thing that happens during his journey, and the angry komodo dragon living inside his soul is not the oddest thing he finds. His is a tragic, troubled, depressing tale, but there's a thin thread of hope that winds itself about him, even if we cannot see it until near the very end.
Even if you're not quite sure where the story is headed, or what the point of it all is, you can't help but want to keep reading, to ride along with Tommy, and see it through to the end. As character-driven stories go, this is an exceptionally strong one, full of darkness and danger, but intricately drawn and well-grounded in the magic and mystery of the creative process. As awkward and aloof as it seems as times, it never wavers in sustaining the suspense, and manages to provide a payoff that's as unique as the story itself, and as tidy as we could possibly hope for, given the circumstances.Originally reviewed at Beauty in Ruins