By Brennan LeFaro
Oh dear me, I’ve made a terrible mistake. I’ve heard such wonderful things about Chad Lutzke since stumbling upon the indie horror community, and I’m just now reading my first book by him. To be fair, I’ve read and enjoyed the short fiction contained within Night as a Catalyst, as well as his Patreon page and various anthologies, but I’ve simply waited too long to see what this guy can do in his element.
From page one we get to see why the novella is Chad Lutzke’s go-to format. We are dropped straight into a developing situation with little set-up and no warning. The story sucks us in right away and we get to know Stacia, Alex, and Kammie, three girls who have been kidnapped and are part of a sex-trafficking house. In horror, we often hear that sometimes the scariest thing is when we don’t see the monster, and this is how Lutzke operates. He could have grabbed us by the heartstrings by evoking graphic imagery and detailed depictions of what these girls have been through, but it’s the implication that grabs us and instills us with a primal fear. Early on in the story, there is a sentence long description regarding loss of innocence that had me feeling that this might be too heavy.
The story is emotional, but it’s incredibly engaging and there was no way I was going to close The Pale White without finding out what was going to happen to these girls. Most of the action presented here deals with the aftermath of the girls escaping from anywhere from 1-10 years of captivity, back into a big, loud, scary world. Lutzke uses this book as a vehicle to explore the nature of someone who has been closed off from society for so long psychologically preparing to rejoin the world. Even the character who has been away for only a year is reluctant to believe the group won’t be blamed for any wrongs done to them, a very apt commentary on our current society’s habit of victim shaming. Especially, when those victims are women.
The Pale White roars along, cramming a full length novel’s worth of material into 98 pages, mainly by cutting anything resembling fat, and not giving the audience a moment to recover after dropping something particularly hard-hitting. As much as the ride through this story was unforgettable, I have mixed feelings about the ending. Without major spoilers, everything wraps up very neatly in a manner that doesn’t quite line up with the gritty and very real quality of the rest of the story. It felt moderately disconnected, but there was also a palpable sense of relief after eighty-odd pages of trauma.
Lutzke has achieved quite a feat with The Pale White. The social commentary is very current and, to the right eyes, scathing. However, even if looked at through a completely apolitical lens, it’s just a good story. I cared about all the characters, I held back my Lutzke tears with great effort, and I did it all in one sitting because I just couldn’t put the damn thing down.