Review: J. David Osborne- By The Time We Leave Here, We’ll Be Friends
by David W Barbee
Set on the insides of a Siberian gulag, Osborne’s debut novel is something beyond dark and gritty. It’s a tense story of grizzled villains and gruesome horror, set in a deadly void where the depravity knows no bounds. The protagonist is Alek Karriker, a former prisoner given guard duty, and there’s something seriously wrong with his neck. He and the rest of the people living in this prison are all doing their best just to survive, and while Karriker is tough as nails, he too might break under the pressure.
The other prisoners hate Karriker for accepting the promotion, so they plan to kill him. They also plan to kill the guards, and they’re not too kind to their fellow prisoners either. Then there’s the prison’s nurse, performing sadistic treatments on the half-dead patients living in her clinic. The other guards are slowly going crazy themselves, becoming either hostile or depressed. The gulag is a hard place, and everyone has to endure physical and moral tortures just to keep living. It’s brutally cold, there’s little food, and absolutely no salvation in sight. The only chance is to escape, the logistics of which demand actions even more disgraceful.
All of this tension is beautifully strung along by Osborne. He has a minimalist style that puts across the simplest and harshest realities like stabs from a prison shiv. Everyone is just a few seconds away from biting at the nearest throat, but there’s also gruesome body horror to be had, as well as strange and surreal opium trips. The ending is a strange twist, but I thought that it called back to the earlier sequences of Karriker’s surreal nightmares. For fans of horror, history, or just plain unsettling weirdness, this story will stick with you long after you put it down.
David W Barbee has NEVER done time in a Russian Gulag. Not for lack of trying, though.