||[Jun. 17th, 2007|11:39 am]
International Bon Vivant and Raconteur
If you liked The Keeper, I think you're going to flip over sarahlangan's follow-up, The Missing (published in the U.K. under its original title Virus). It's that good. In fact, I think it qualifies as an early-career tour de force along the lines of Straub's Julia and Barker's The Damnation Game.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that 1) Sarah is a dear friend whom I've known for many years, and 2) even before she gave me the galley, I'd read about 2/3 of the book already in workshop. (It was fun to see in the final version where she made the changes I suggested, thus turning the book into a masterpiece, and where -- foolishly! -- she did not.) Still, you know I give honest reviews to authors who are friends. In fact, sometimes I think I'm a little harder on the authors who are my friends. I guess it's because if I'm going to drink beer and eat macaroni and cheese with someone, I expect only the best from them.
As she did in The Keeper, Langan once again offers a town-wide cast of characters through which to view the horrific events of the novel, though the focus is mainly on the Wintrob family: emotionally distant psychiatrist Fenstad, fragile librarian Meg, and rebellious, purple-haired daughter Maddie (my favorite character in the book, even though she's always kind of a bitch to her boyfriend Enrique).
Langan excels at creating emotionally damaged characters you care about and hate in equal measure, sometimes at the same time, and in The Missing, as in The Keeper, characters and their myriad issues are what drive the story forward. Langan creates a dire situation -- a mysterious, possibly sentient virus spreads through Corpus Christi, transforming its victims into black-eyed superhumans who are always, always hungry, and will eat whatever crosses their path, be it animal or man -- and then asks what her characters would do. What she comes up with is fantastic and never felt forced to me. And for a book with so much cannibalistic violence, Langan should be praised for not taking the much-trodden zombie path (these killers are the opposite of mindless), and for avoiding the use of any characters who suffer from eating disorders as symbolism (though Maddie, like many teenage girls, disturbs her parents by eating like a bird). I think that's because ultimately the novel isn't about eating or consumerism; it's about change. It's about what happens when society turns on itself. It's kind of about civil war.
One of the best books of the year so far, says I. Check it out when it hits the shelves this fall.
A note, especially for reviewers: The galley is a mess. There are a ton of typos and global search-and-replace errors that I can only imagine some stoned college intern at HarperCollins is responsible for. Luckily, I'm told the errors have all been fixed and the final book will be in much better shape. That's a relief, because as far as I know, Shakespeare never wrote a play called "Romeo and Lina," and I believe it is supposed to be "Balto the Wonder Dog", not, um, "Kaufmann the Wonder Dog".