Just in time for the spooky season, Scribe Award-winner Steven Paul Leiva released the book “Creature Feature: A Horrid Comedy” earlier this fall. The tale follows Kathy Anderson, a young actress itching to grow beyond the confines of her role as Vivacia, host of “Vivacia’s House of Horrors” — a blatant “Elvira” rip-off in the best way possible. When she returns to her childhood home in 1962 as a brief stopover on her way to the bright lights of New York City, it is clear something is out of place. The novel wastes no time thoroughly asserting the unrest that has captured the town. Heavy-handed and direct, Leiva isn’t in the business of reinventing the wheel; rather, he’s oiling the wheel to make sure it can still spin. And spin it does.
Kathy’s hometown of Placidville is an interesting in-between stop on Kathy’s big New York relocation and an even more interesting backdrop for the intersection of sci-fi and horror. Duality is abundant, both between Vivacia and Kathy and between Placidville as the portrait of the American dream and Placidville as the site of the almost-apocalypse, and it becomes evident that Leiva is a fan of the unassuming. At 22, heroine Kathy seems a little too young to be as disgruntled as she is, but Leiva captures the restlessness of youth with satirical musings that aging affirms are appropriate.
Leiva is witty and engaging, stylistically striking an immediate generational middle ground. At face value, the novel would seem nothing more than a boomer’s nostalgic wet dream, but Leiva imbues the novel with an accessible comedic edge. That isn’t to say there aren’t eye-rolling boomerisms peppered throughout — a line about the political correctness of the term “heroine” hits early on in the relatively brief novel — but these isms strike more of an endearing chord than a problematic one.
Leiva, somewhat of a polyglot of entertainment mediums, employs that mastery as he moves the novel forward in an incredibly charming way. A perfect mix of dynamic action and dry dialogue keep readers turning the pages.
That isn’t to say the tale isn’t without its flaws. At times, Leiva seems to subscribe to the mass media-diagnosed millennial narcissism. Kathy’s thirst for stardom, as well as her tendency to be easily distracted by eager fans, seems to be a testament to this. In that way, the story stumbles at times in attempting to endear itself to, rather than alienate, a younger audience.
Still, the book reads like your favorite uncle telling an excellent story — one that pokes at some sore spots, but otherwise celebrates an inaccessible time. And, for that reason, “Creature Feature” holds enough rich nostalgia for all of us. It’s a tender ode to Cold War-era technological anxiety and is a delightful read for a less than delightful time. It’s escapism for the gentle masochist, leaving a real world of trauma for a fictional one of catastrophe.
Leiva’s “Creature Feature: A Horrid Comedy” in name alone evokes a bygone era of midnight B-movie monster flicks. And as Leiva’s novel is one that shows its hand very early on, it is advised to take the “Creature Feature” at face value. It is a return to a cultural moment when the television set was the center of the home, the odd pastime of fearing and relishing the perversion of the American dream. The story offers exactly what you’d think it would offer, which is a refreshing change of pace from the contest of, “How many turns can this story take before the audience falls off?” approach often found in contemporary horror stories. With “Creature Feature,” Leiva isn’t begging the question of how far he can stretch readers’ suspension of disbelief before it snaps. Rather, he implores his audience to relish the opportunity to reenter a space where realism isn’t the goal. Because of this, Leiva manages to deliver just the right dose of escapism and horror for this Halloween season.