September 6th, 2006


Take the Long Way Home

Brian Keene has come a long way since his days of writing Phantasm and Evil Dead fanfic. His work appears in numerous venues, he's got book deals with two mass market houses, he's won some Bram Stoker Awards, and he's got something with just about every major limited edition specialty press in the genre. So you might think my head has been in the sand when I tell you I haven't read much of his work. A short story here and there, his always entertaining blog, but not much else.

Take the Long Way Home is the fourth in Bram Stoker Award-winning specialty press Necessary Evil's novella series, and though it's actually pretty short, it may just be the longest thing I've read by him. It tells the story of three men -- Steve, Charlie and Frank, with Steve as the POV character -- who get stranded on the highway following a strange blast and the disappearance of numerous people. The novella follows their travels through a chaotic and increasingly lawless territory as Steve tries to get back home to his wife, with Charlie and Frank tagging along because there's safety in numbers.

Keene isn't a stylist -- there's no defining voice to the piece, no key turns of phrase -- choosing a more straightforward telling that focuses on action and dialogue with the occasional internal soliloquy. While I tend to prefer reading more finely crafted prose that can hypnotize me with its voice and imagery, there's no denying Keene knows how to keep the story moving at a good pace. The story didn't hold many surprises for me -- naming one character in an end-of-the-world story Gabriel (a Stephen Kingish "Magical Negro" no less!) is too big a wink; also, it's a pretty safe bet what Steve will find once he gets home, since there's really no other way to end the story -- but the journey itself is the adventure, and Keene does that very well.

My only real problem with the novella is that Keene doesn't seem to trust his readers. He hammers things into such a fine point that we don't get to figure them out on our own. The biggest example of this is the mysterious blast that starts the story. To Steve's ears, it sounds like a trumpet. Cool. But then, every time the blast is mentioned in the following pages, by Steve or anyone else, so is the word trumpet. "Hey did you hear that blast, it sounded like a trumpet," "That trumpet-sounding blast," "The blast, which I still think sounded like a trumpet...," etc. It takes every writer a while to learn to trust his or her readers and to allow some subtlety into his or her prose, but I thought Keene, for all his experience, would have done that by now.

Take the Long Way Home is most likely a minor work in Keene's oeuvre, but I found it an enjoyable and fast-paced adventure.

Next up, a return, finally, to the Straubathon with 1988's Koko!