Solstice (2020), by Lorence Alison, is subtitled “A Tropical Horror Comedy” and is a thinly fictionalized take on the disastrous Fyre Festival, with the addition of an eldritch sea monster lurking beneath the waves. I wasn’t expecting high literature from it, just the proverbial “beach read” to distract myself from the fact that there is no beach anywhere near me (and if there were, it would probably be closed anyway). But the more I think about it, the more it just doesn’t work for me.
Adri Sanchez is a smart, inquisitive teen who’s working as a waitress in her parents’ diner. They have lofty aspirations for her and have lined up a summer internship for her at a law office, but what Adri really wants to be is a journalist. Her wealthy best friend, Elena, is given two tickets to the much-hyped Solstice Festival on Myla Island, and invites Adri to go as her guest. Adri’s favorite artist is scheduled to play, so she really wants to go, but her parents forbid it. But Adri, technically eighteen, sneaks out and goes anyway, defying her parents for probably the first time in her life.
But the festival turns out to be a trainwreck. The initial ways it goes wrong are kind of funny, but won’t be new to anyone who followed the Fyre coverage in the real world; the FEMA tents and soggy cheese sandwiches appear on cue. But then Adri sees something she wasn’t supposed to see, and realizes there’s something worse going on at Solstice.
I liked Adri at first; her goals and curiosity are relatable, as is her less-privileged perspective on the #FirstWorldProblems all around her. As Solstice progresses, though, she’s sometimes less sympathetic. For example, at one point she’s thinking of leaving the island without Elena, who’s currently on a sketchy person’s yacht. She then realizes that she can’t do that — not because she’s worried about her best friend’s safety, but just because Elena has the plane tickets.
The monster doesn’t make sense to me. This monster is huge, and it hunts because it’s hungry, not for sport. At one point it eats AN ENTIRE YACHT. So why are the first few bodies found mostly intact, just a little bloodied? I kept expecting to learn that they’d been killed by a human murderer rather than by the monster, but no.
Finally, this book caused me to reflect on one of the pitfalls of writing fiction that’s so closely based on real-life events. In order to have plot twists, you have to make some changes to who the real baddies are. This can sit uneasily with the reader, though, when the analog of a real-world scoundrel turns out to be a decent dude, or when one of the villains is drawn from a group that was massively taken advantage of in reality.
Solstice didn’t turn out to be what I wanted, but I’m still in the market for a really good SFF music festival book. I think I’m going to check out Sarah Pinsker’s A Song for a New Day.
If you’re going to do this, you definitely need to get the monster right!
I think you’ll enjoy A SONG FOR A NEW DAY.
It was so polite, just taking a little nibble out of people!
“just a smackerel of human”
Kelly, if you like metal, try this one:
I definitely need to! Have you checked out Paperbacks from Hell? It’s his nonfiction book about 70s and 80s horror. Terrible covers galore. But you’ll probably discover lots of interesting stuff to read.