I frickin' loved The Keeper
, and not just because sarahlangan
is a good friend of mine (you know I've given bad reviews to friends' work before). What Langan does with The Keeper
is return character to the forefront of horror, a genre that has become increasingly more plot-driven at the expense of character and motivation.
But The Keeper
isn't plot-driven -- if you boil it down to its essential plot beats, there are only two: Susan Marley dies, and the paper mill pollutes the town. Everything else is character-driven, and that's why this book succeeds so well. By the time you finish, you feel like you've lived with these people for a long time. You understand them, you get why they do what they do and say what they say. In other words, you care -- and that's the strength or weakness of any
novel: whether you care.
The characters are almost all relentlessly downbeat, and that can be off-putting, but it's also the point of the story. Bedford is a town of secrets. Everyone at the heart of the story has his or her own private darkness, and ultimately that's what dooms Susan Marley to what she becomes, and dooms the town itself to its fate.
I love Langan's writing, too. It's crisp and it flows, even if it indulges in a few too many Stephen King-esque pop culture references (when confronted with the rotting corpse of your dead sister, would your first thought really be about how her body reminds you of the board game Operation?). But the strength of her prose is such that it works. You're happy to buy what she's selling.
In this year of two excellent, MFA-certified writers publishing outstanding horror novels with major publishing houses -- The Keeper
and Dave Wellington's Monster Island
-- I'd say this has been a good year for the genre!
In fact, I was going to read Wellington's follow-up next, Monster Nation
, but then I remembered I still haven't read Phantom
, the free horror lit magazine they gave away at World Fantasy this year. There are a lot of horror stories in there by writers I admire, and if I want to be able to recommend any of them for the Bram Stoker Award this year, I better get crackin'!