Review by Patrick R. McDonough
Criterium’s cover is so innocent looking, isn’t it? Sure, there’s fire, but it’s a nice illustration with its soft color scheme. What you don’t see in that cover is who’s riding the bike? What does the fire dance upon? And in what direction do the tips of the flames lick?
Tyler Jones tackles addiction and the loss of a loved one in varying ways, on top of self-discovery. He does all this through the eyes of Zack Ayers, a troubled teen who wants nothing more than his father back. Not only does he want his father back, but he wants the father he knew as a child, not the man he saw decay into a strung-out addict.
Writing about someone with an addiction so often leads to a disrespectful gloss over of addiction itself, by making the person addicted become a monster, having the one addicted see the world in a different reality than everyone else, or by making someone addicted character be all-consumed by that addiction.
Readers familiar with Jones’ work will not be surprised to discover he tackles addiction with the respect and care it deserves. Criterium is about those that are affected by it—the families, the friends, the addict themselves—because at the end of the day, don’t most of us want to be happy and part of a family that offers support and love?
Zack isn’t only responsible for himself. He also cares for his younger sister. His mother is doing the best she can to keep this unit of three afloat, contending with the stress of paying the bills on time, as well as keeping food on the table, clothes on their back, and a warm shelter to sleep in. All of that would be anxiety-inducing enough, but when you add a bike from hell into the picture, pain on a level noone should ever experience, the desire to die becomes the only thing on Zach’s mind.
The bike is what turns this hyper realistic story into the fantastical imaginings of Ray Bradbury and Clive Barker. When there’s pain, it’s ever-lasting. When there’s injury, it’s one that the reader will never forget. Jones does something really damn clever though, he offers hope in the end. Sure, this is Horror, but without hope, you fall to the shadows… and where there are shadows, there’s no room for fire.