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Book Review: PAPER TIGERS by Damien Angelica Walters (2016)

by Christopher M. Novas
PAPER TIGERS by Damien Angelica Walters
Published by: Dark House Press
Release Date: February 29, 2016

This is the debut novel from author Damien Angelica Walters, and goddamn, what a debut.

Our protagonist is Alison, a woman who is terribly disfigured after an accidental fire takes everything from her: her beauty, her husband, her hope, her love, but most importantly, her normalcy. She is all consumed in her trauma, becoming a recluse, mostly abandoning the outside world in favor of her apartment where no one sees our Monstergirl. One of the only people she truly allows to come into her life is her mother, exerting Alison to do her upmost best to return to society, to try to be the normal daughter she’s always known, but Alison’s trauma is all too powerful as it is personified into three emotions: Red (anger), Purple (fear), and Yellow (sadness). They are the voices that coax her into her recluse, voices she cannot escape. She instead chooses to walk the empty streets of her town in the witching hours, covered in scarves, gloves, and long coats as to avoid any person that may cast their judgmental eyes on her. She is fascinated with collecting photo albums, living vicariously through the fictional lives she imagines for these people. This is her thread to normalcy, a hope found in old picture books, and beautiful, whole people.

One night, Alison stumbles upon an antique store which curiously opens at 3AM. She is entranced by the old photo album displayed on the windowsill, and although she is terrified to interact with anyone, she steps in and hurriedly buys the album. Safely at home she finds that the book only opens to the first page, with all the other pages stuck. The picture displayed is of a singular man, George. She imagines his personality, and his favorite drink. From this moment forward, weird events start to happen surrounding the photo album from smelling tobacco smoke, to hearing music coming from the album, evolving and morphing to the point where Alison is sucked into the photo album itself, into a house she doesn’t recognize. There, she is whole — the missing digits on her right hand are miraculously all there, her right eye and right breast are no longer missing, and her skin…her beautiful, beautiful skin is back glowing in its normalcy, not the ruined mess of burnt skin plastered together by skin grafts. When she manages to leave the photo album, the miracle is still there, albeit momentarily. The scars and missing parts return, her trauma comes back more powerful than ever, and her only solution is to return to the paper world again and again, gorging on the possibility of being whole permanently, feeding the paper tiger all along the way.

This novel is beautiful in its restrained, yet lyrical voice, not a single word is misplaced or misused. Walters makes Alison’s despair and pain vividly real, depressingly so. It eviscerates you from page one. Alison is the most haunted person in the entire novel, tied to her desperation to escape her identity as a Monstergirl. Walters does a masterful job of putting us in the forefront of what it means to be a survivor, with all of its crushing ugliness.

More than a horror novel, more than a haunted house novel, this is a novel of survival. A novel filled with real trauma. A novel of someone pushed to the brink of existence, broken and lost. This is a novel filled to the brim with the absence of the things we take for granted in our every day lives: our sanity, our immersion into the world, our lives filled with the love of others, but mostly our self-love.

When you have lost everything, what lengths would you go to have it all back? Would you open the tigers cage?

Buy PAPER TIGERS from: AmazonBarnes & Noble, Books A Million, Books Depository, Curbside Splendor, or find an independent bookstore near you with Indie Bound.
You can find out more about Dark House Press: Here
To find out more about Damien Angelica Walters, visit her website.
Follow her on Twitter.

*I received an ARC of this book in return for a review.
**Editors note: as is our policy, we will be posting this review on Amazon & Goodreads in the following week, as those platforms help authors reach wider audiences.

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