Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Keeper by Sarah Langan

Sometimes you just want pulp horror. Which makes it easy to delve into the D list section at a local grocery store or mega-bookstore’s rack. And when you come up from the stacks, raw and wriggling, holding a real stinker in your mouth, you remember that there’s a reason the Barker’s, Koontzes, and Kings of the world have sold so many copies. Because there’s a lot of really lousy horror out there. Take The Keeper, by Sarah Langan, for example.

It’s not so much that the book is poorly written, though it most certainly is. Nor is it is incoherent plot, which involves a proverbial kitchen sink’s worth of explanations for all the non-sense which unfolds that bothers one the most. Nay, nor do the shallow characters, weak dialog, or jerky pacing really distract too terribly much from the overall trainwreck. No, the real disappointment here is the PG-13 level of lurid detail in what promises to deliver “monstrous visions of violence and horror.” It’s as if Mrs. Langan wanted to give us possessed small town whores, infanticide, evil profit driven factory owners, alcoholic lead characters, and all the rest without having actually read how the masters deliver on these exact same hackneyed devices. (Respectively, loosely: Great and Secret Show, Trainspotting, Desperation, Dark Half.) Besides, instead of any genuine terror at the end, there’s hugging, crying, learning and growing. The sex scenes lack focus, as if the camera has simply drifted away from the action out of boredom. The heroine and her beau are dullards, who lack even the teen angst found in Judy Blume.

I will give props for a brief Elliot Smith reference buried somewhere in here. Also, can’t help but notice that overall, folks on Amazon give this novel fairly high praise. The collection of five star reviews for this two and a half star book makes me suspect they are mostly shills, or friends of the author, but I suppose it’s possible that I just missed some secret gem buried in all this cliché. On the cover of the novel there’s a quote from Peter Straub, hoping that The Keeper “begins what should be a very fruitful career.” This quote reminds me of Atticus Finch saying, “You look just like a picture, Mrs. Debois.” To which Scout repiles under her breath, “he don’t say a picture of what!” Perhaps Mr. Straub is right, and when Mrs. Langan’s second novel wins a Brahm Stoker award or similar, I’ll eat my words. But it will take significant improvement. Luckily, since Mrs. Langan made it into pulp press in the first place, she’ll likely get the chance.

All the above notwithstanding, I’m still not sorry I spent money on a new author; if only to support a wider circle of horror writers I hegetting published. Best of luck with your future novels, Mrs. Langan. May they be better paced, with better characters, who are better written and better received.

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