by Brian Lupo
Agoraphobic student, Lexi Peters, is left with no choice but to drive the 400-plus miles to her parent’s home in San Francisco alone, when her friend, Rachael, makes other plans for Winter break. Riddled with crippling anxiety and on the verge of mental collapse, Lexi begins the journey. When a storm begins to close in, and an old truck seems to be tailing her, Lexi realizes her worst fears might be about to come true…
Ugly Faces is a short, intense, psychological horror that I found difficult to put down. It begins immediately with Lexi being let down by Rachael, the start is a touch jittery and takes a couple of pages to settle down. However, this complements the book's overall anxious vibe and Lexi’s complex issues.
From the outset, the reader is given little hints of what has caused Lexi’s deep-rooted fears, but there are also a few niggles about her that create a growing intrigue. She is not particularly likable, and the reader cannot quite shake the feeling that her problems might not be quite as straightforward as they appear.
Although her emotions are heightened to breakdown levels, she also exudes a strange detachment to her surroundings and a lack of empathy unless the problems of others are directly affecting her own. Again, it works well to spark curiosity as to where the story is heading.
Notwithstanding, some of her behavioral patterns stretch credibility, although, given the poor condition of her mental health who’s to judge what strange decisions she may make? However, I did find the dynamic between her and Nick, progressing as quickly as it does, slightly odd in the circumstances.
Lupo’s prose is strongest when Lexi is on the road. It’s visual, sensory, and incredibly tense, setting the reader on edge along with Lexi, you do feel as if you are in the car with her. The pace is fairly breathless but well-judged and certainly keeps the pages turning.
Despite her parents being disembodied voices on the phone, their panicked and frustrating conversations with Lexi were incredibly realistic and they also seemed to have something slightly sinister about them, although that could be a personal reaction as you do begin to wonder quite who is reliable in this narrative.
And, as Lexi’s road trip hurtles towards its grisly conclusion, several twists and distractions ensure the reader is thrown into a fair amount of confusion, questioning pretty much all the characters’ actions and intentions, and ensuring the reader is left with a couple of unsolved puzzles upon which to exercise their imagination.
Ugly Faces is an unsettling, quirky little horror that pulsates with nerves and dread. Well worth a read.