||[Sep. 12th, 2007|04:09 pm]
International Bon Vivant and Raconteur
(The usual full-disclosure caveat: Nate Kenyon is a friend, and one of the finest people -- and ballplayers -- I know. But as you know, I try not to let personal relationships influence my reviews.)
Nate Kenyon's first novel Bloodstone takes the familiar horror trope of a man coming to a small town besieged by evil and adds a few nice twists to it. First, the protagonist, Billy Smith, isn't returning home for a relative's funeral or anything like that. In fact, he has never been to White Falls before. Instead, he's urged to come there by strange, disturbing dreams (which, detrimentally, are never fully described for the reader). Second, he's compelled to kidnap someone, a junkie prostitute called Angel, and take her there too. Once there, Billy and Angel discover White Falls' history of violent crime and realize they've been called there to be pawns in an ancient force's game.
Kenyon creates some interestingly flawed characters and puts them through the wringer in a compelling story of the past coming back not just to haunt but to try to live again. But like so many first novels -- and I think Kenyon mentioned he wrote this something like 10 years before it was published in 2006 -- this one sports the deep flaws of an author still feeling his way forward.
For some reason, Billy Smith is referred to as Smith throughout the narrative, even when we're in his own POV, which is 90% of the time, and that's an oddly distancing choice. We get inside his head a lot, and to Kenyon's credit we do get to know him well, but this particular choice sometimes acts as an unintended barrier between us and him. Also, there were times when it was clear to me that Kenyon didn't quite trust his authorial voice yet. A lot of the prose is formal and proper, making it both cold and, again, distancing for the reader.
One major issue I had was that too many important plot points happen off-stage and are then simply related to Smith later by another character. The most telling example of this is when one minor character shoots his wife and her lover. We never see it happen, even though Kenyon has taken the time to introduce us to these characters. Instead, he has yet another character, Dr. Stowe, tell Smith that this happened the previous night. Why not show it and let the reader experience it? Without being there and only hearing about it, the event doesn't sound real. The same thing happens with the background tale of Frederick Thomas, one of the original founders of White Falls. We are only told of his transformation from man into monster, we're never shown it or allowed to experience it for ourselves. That makes it hard to buy. And when a whole town is having terrible dreams, I'd really like to see them, not simply be told they're all having nightmares.
Similarly, characters sometimes know things they shouldn't. Toward the end, Angel wonders if the bullet-riddled bodies in an underground tunnel have been discovered yet, but she wasn't there when that event happened. Only Smith and Stowe were. It's possible she was told about it later, but that's never presented to the reader.
Lastly, on a personal note, I'm of the opinion that writers should never mention H.P. Lovecraft's Necronomicon again. Not even when writing a Lovecraft pastiche. I find it utterly played out. But that's just a pet peeve.
If it sounds like I'm being harsh, I don't mean to. There's also a lot to recommend in Bloodstone. It's an impressive first novel that shows a lot of imagination (and has been picked up for paperback release by Leisure Books next year). Kenyon will undoubtedly grow by leaps and bounds in his next novels. You can see the potential on the page. But down the road, I think Bloodstone itself will be considered a minor work in his oeuvre.
Next up, leethomas' The Dust of Wonderland.