Friday’s Forgotten Books – Wake in Fright by Kenneth Cook

wake in fright kenneth cookI’ve long since wished that Australian fiction was more easily available here in the U.S., maybe I would have heard of this classic outback book sooner.

Wake in Fright was published in 1961 and, according to the introduction, found some success and was published in England and America. Wake in Fright was made into a harrowing movie in 1971 and has become something of a cult classic.

Wake in Fright tells of a teacher, John Grant, from the East who has to work in the West to work off his debt to the government and his subsequent descent into a kind of madness upon being stranded in a small town.

Wake in Fright is deeply ironic. The East is where the big cities, culture, and civilization is. The West…isn’t. Grant is from the East and considers himself cultured (really he just thinks he is better then those in the West). But his story is ultimately one of a small town guy who drowns when he gets to a larger town.

The file’s opening scene is impressive. The shot starts with a building in the middle of a desert and the camera proceeds to do a 360 degree pan showing literally nothing until the only other building in town is shown on the other side of the tracks. It’s literally a two building town in the middle of nowhere. One of the buildings is the hotel/bar the contempt that the bartender feels for his only tenant is shown through a simple act, the pouring of a beer.

“It’s death to farm out there. It’s worse than death in the mines. Do you want them to sing opera as well?”

The biggest difference between the book and the film is in the end. It’s possible to take away from the end of the book two different readings. The first is that the suicide attempt worked, and the second is that it didn’t. In the film the latter interpretation is favored.

Wake in Fright is a horrific novel of madness that horror fans, noir fans, and fans of psychological fiction will love. Highly recommended.

Here is the full movie.

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Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

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About Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

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