Living homeless on the streets of Philadelphia, all your belongings in a couple of trash bags, watching your back twenty-four hours a day. This would be enough to handle for anyone, right? How about adding supernatural horror to the mix? This is what readers will experience in Paul Lubaczewski’s new novella, A New Life.
Some of the best horror literature succeeds by keeping one foot in reality and one foot in fantasy. A New Life follows this formula and does it very well. Austin, our protagonist, is a young man down on his luck who bailed out of a dysfunctional family in the suburbs and finds himself on the tough streets of Philly. This is inner city Philly, with all the grit, danger, and challenges. For residents with resources, Philly can be an amazing place. For many others, with no prospects, it can certainly be a dark and hopeless existence. Lubaczewski, born in Philadelphia, draws from personal experience to influence his fiction. A New Life may initially lure readers who crave horror fiction, but they will first discover the real nightmare of homelessness.
Paul Lubaczewski does a great job of first developing the main character and his surroundings. There is no urgency to rush the supernatural elements of the story. Instead, readers discover a scenario of real street life in an urban setting. The author takes his time revealing the daily routine of a young person experiencing homelessness. Drugs, blighted neighborhoods, dangerous characters, sleeping behind bushes, hustling in gay bars…it’s all here. Nonetheless, this is a novella with a heart. The horror is real, but there is much more going on. Austin is an example of a suburban teen who runs away due to family issues and alienation. He is a good guy and doesn’t relish his situation. He wants to work and find a decent place to stay. This, of course, is a serious issue in society, and kudos to the author for making readers think about it.
A New Life is storytelling born from the street. There is a powerful urban vibe going on. Readers encounter all the intrinsic elements of inner city existence. Old men in bars, who now only live for a beer and the Phillies baseball game on television. Empty lots and abandoned houses which once thrived in a past reality. The daily grind of the subway and its passengers. A corner bodega grocery store which Austin patronizes. All these ingredients help flavor an urban style prose within a supernatural tale.
Austin traverses two realities as he attempts to maintain a relationship with his suburban girlfriend, Megan. The two strive to hang on, though they currently exist in different worlds. Megan is investing in stable suburban life, but her love for Austin finds her venturing into the city to spend time with him.
Along the way, Austin encounters two shady characters at a West Philly bar, Zion and Nicky. Not exactly sure what criminal intent the two are currently plotting, Austin accepts a job offer from Nicky guarding an empty warehouse across town in North Philly. Part of the deal is the option for Austin to live in the warehouse. A step up, maybe, for someone on the streets. For anyone in the know, however, North Philly can be one of the most dangerous sections in the whole city.
Our story shifts firmly into the horror realm as Austin relocates to the warehouse. What gruesome secrets does this property hold? Make no mistake, just as readers are absorbing Austin’s daily plight of survival on the streets, things get very bloody. Within the bleak neighborhood, Haitian voodoo is manifesting in the form of murder and revenge, revealing the malevolent past of Zion, and his cousin, Elijah. Thankfully, an elderly African-American man named Charles, who lives across from the warehouse, befriends Austin. Charles will prove a vital ally as things spiral disturbingly into the unknown. The important aspect of all this is the fact readers will care about the characters involved… and that makes all the difference.
A New Life is definitely a page-turner, sure to keep the reader’s attention. The author even adds a dash of humor in the midst of dire circumstances, as Austin carries a shovel and coal onto the subway train:
“Thank god this was Philadelphia, where weird on SEPTA was just a way of life, God alone only knows what would have happened if he tried that in a civilized city.”
Paul Lubaczewski has contributed to various science fiction and horror publications. His previous book was I Never Eat… Cheesecake. A New Life is a dark tale with an underlying message of hope and tenderness that will find a home on both horror and non-horror bookshelves. Also, anyone intimately familiar with Philadelphia and its environs will surely be interested. The cover art is by Stephanie Murr and the editor is Tim Murr. A New Life is a St Rooster Books publication.