Painless by Marty Thornley
Thank you JKS for the copy of this book - all opinions are my own.
Painless is one of those stories that sucks you right in, and you find yourself burning through, because you have GOT to find out what is going to happen next.
I love a good psychological thriller, and this delivers on that with a healthy dose of horror mixed in. I was fully invested from the start as Greg sets out to participate in a clinical trial in the middle of nowhere, with very little info to go on, other than he will finally be pain free after year of suffering. You know as a reader, inevitably, that things are going to go very wrong, but you can never guess just HOW wrong.
This book is terrifically tense and definitely gruesome. I was simultaneously completely engrossed in what was going on and horrified by it, which is to say, it was a perfectly crafted read. I really won’t review beyond that, as the reader deserves to be entirely horrified from start to finish, spoiler free.
I had originally started this, thinking I would read a few chapters before I went to bed one night, and ended up staying up well into the early hours finishing it because there was no point in which I could set it down. This is a book that demands to be devoured all at once.
Bookworms who like a good horror suspense, THIS is the book for you. Gripping, intense and absolutely insane, it is one that will stick with you well after you are done.
What would you give to achieve a life without pain? Marty Thornley’s debut novel Painless offers a front-row seat to a clinical trial gone horribly wrong in an action-packed, psychological horror story that probes into deeper questions about depression, anxiety, aggression, obsessive thoughts, and addiction.
For protagonist Greg Owens, this new-found procedure to cure physical pain was supposed to be a chance to end years of back pain and escape his reliance on pain pills. If it all worked out, he could maybe even get back the life he left behind before the pain pills took control. Instead, as Greg and other patients are cured of their physical pain, they encounter a different sort of pain building inside them: obsessive thoughts, depression, self-destruction. The patients want answers and violent revenge, setting them on a collision course with a crazed doctor who is determined to protect his life's obsession.
This breakthrough story from Marty Thornley began nearly a decade ago as a screenplay. After his brother’s overdose, Thornley revisited the story to tell it from a new perspective of personal struggle and loss, weaving a relevant conversation of addiction and mental health into a suspenseful and gruesome plot.
As a storyteller who has worked in multiple formats, how has your background in film influenced your writing?
The obvious answer would be that a background in filmmaking might make the storytelling more visual. More importantly, screenwriting is a very precise, plot-driven process. It is very structured, leaving little to no space for anything extra. You have ten pages to grab a reader’s interest or it gets tossed. Certain plot points need to happen at approximately pages 30, 60, and 90 (for a 120 page screenplay, where 1 page = 1 minute of screentime). Writing the novel was more free-form than that, but I always kept my eyes on the pacing and structure.
Painless is more than just a horror novel. Can you explain how losing your brother to an overdose inspired you to revisit this story?
It did not exactly happen that way. I had not written anything in years. As I was approaching the one year memorial for my brother, I really just wanted to be creative again. Painless had always been my favorite, and I think most complete, screenplay. It had a couple mentions of pills but it was not a critical part of the story. Being a screenplay, there had been no room for looking inside the character’s heads or knowing their back story. Since I would have to flesh that out, I thought I could weave some memories of my brother into the characters. It is mostly Greg, but little bits show up across the board, like Franky, the guy who always has a pocket knife, or Cesar, who could be funny one minute and short-tempered the next. As I wrote it, it became more about addiction than I ever intended. The most startling moment for me was when I realized that the obsessed doctor, unwilling to give up his doomed idea, was maybe more an expression of addiction than anything I wrote about Greg.
You spent most of your career in film and programming. What influenced your decision to begin writing novels?
One of the frustrating aspects to the film industry (even for extremely successful writers) is that you write something, but that is not the end. You have to get representation and funding, find a producer and director, cast it, and most likely have it re-written by another writer, or a team of other writers. All of that is out of your control and can take years, if it ever happens at all. It was profoundly freeing to think that I could just write, send it off to any of the print-on-demand services and have a few finished copies to hand to friends and family.
What attracts you to the psychological horror genre, both as a writer and a reader?
My guiding interest is always suspense. Suspense can be present in a tense drama or love story, but is most obvious in thrillers and horror stories. The first time I thought about being a filmmaker was watching old Hitchcock films, rented from the Plymouth Library. They had a huge collection of VHS and eventually DVD movies and TV shows. I binge watched Hitchcock films before binge-watching was even a term. There was something about his camera movements and editing that I recognized across films, and I somehow knew that it was the psychology of the director being projected from the screen and into the viewers head. I would later learn about the “Auteur Theory” and why that all worked. Later, I found other directors that could do the same thing - Kubrick, Lynch, Cronenberg, Scorsese. When it is done correctly, it is like the storyteller is reaching right into the brain of the observer and pulling them into the story.
Painless visits topics like addiction and mental health in a raw and unique way. What do you hope readers take away from the book?
I think there a few ways readers walk away from Painless, and they are all okay with me. Some have just said they enjoyed the read, and that it was a fun, gory horrific story. Others have appreciated the elements of addiction or mental health that all the characters are dealing with in some way. I have been surprised to see the number of reviews that mention a connection to the chronic pain. For someone who has lived with chronic pain to read the book and feel a connection to the characters is incredible for me to hear. I will give one little teaser though, to mention something important to me and something that no one has mentioned yet… The Prologue and Epilogue are in the present tense, while the rest of the book is in the past tense. I’m waiting for someone to have some ideas about that.