Dan Simmons, Fiction, Historical-Fiction, Horror, Paul Tremblay, Ronald Malfi, Stephen King

The Terror, King, and More

I’ve been remiss about keeping up to date, so here is an abbreviated summation of the past few weeks’ activity:

The Terror

Completed Simmons’ masterful work. My favorite part was two-pages’ worth of instruction by the ships’ doctor on how to properly dismember the human body for consumption. In the end, the story closed without the unnecessary, flashy Hollywood-style ending. It was actually rather subdued and hopeful. I have yet to watch the limited series, but I hope it does the book its due justice. Simmons did a fine job with his narrative descriptions keeping in the reader’s mind just how barren and unforgiving was the largely uncharted arctic in the 19th century (do we really know that much more today?) and how desperate the crews’ life-or-death predicament. Historical-fiction informed by subtle mythic undertones truly makes for a satisfying explanation for the failure of this actual expedition and the inevitable fates for all involved. I still cannot help likening The Terror to Moby Dick in its language and scope, and in the adversarial relationship between captain and the tuunbaq. But don’t mistake that to be a literal or overly heavy-handed comparison. While one is the pursuit of his adversary at any cost, the other is a question of survival and at what cost. How much of one’s humanity is one willing to shrug off in order to survive.

I still have a lot more of Simmons’ work to get through, and I am looking forward to every page.

The Chalk Man

The premise for this short novel by C.J. Tudor was quite engaging, but I felt the author did not fully explore and flesh out that premise. The denouement was somewhat unsatisfying and jarring at the same time. There was an opportunity for character exploration and development on par with King’s It or Simmons’ Summer of Night. I wanted to know more about these characters and their unique method of communicating with one another and how that method might be subverted by the antagonist. It was a fun read, but it definitely did not support the fallacious dictate that “less is more.” Here, more was definitely needed.

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock

Paul Tremblay’s novel is one of psychological suspense with overtones of the supernatural. It begins as a simple, yet heart-rending, story involving the search for a young boy who had disappeared while out in the forest one evening with his friends. Gradually, we learn about the young man these boys befriended and the horrible act of violence to which this stranger led them. We learn most of this backstory from portions of the missing boy’s journal that mysteriously appear as if out of thin air in the family’s home. The journal’s appearance keeps hope alive for the boy’s mother as she believes it is him that is leaving the pages secretly for her to find. The mother needs this hope after having a vision of a shadow-figure resembling her son that made her fear she was seeing her son’s ghost.

Any story about a missing child is one, for me, that often hits close to home. Children—even teenagers—are vulnerable and maintaining their innocence, which abductions often shatter, feels like a sacred responsibility for those that care for them. Tremblay does an excellent job of taking us into the mother’s grief and terror, which always is tempered by even the smallest of hopes that she will have her son returned safe to her.

The novel is both tragic and uplifting as it shows us that even innocents can possess strengths and insights unfamiliar to supposed, experienced adults.

Bone White

With the exceptions of Simmons above and King below, I had not been familiar previously with any of these authors. Written by Ronal Malfi, Bone White tells the story of one man’s search to find the truth about the fate of his missing twin brother. Last seen in photograph taken just outside the town of Dread’s Hand, Alaska, Danny Gallo has been missing for a year. Local authorities were only able to locate his abandoned rental car. When a quiet resident of Dread’s Hand, Joseph Mallory, confesses to having buried eight bodies in the neighboring forest, the national news immediately takes up the story. Paul Gallo fears his brother may have been one of the victims and in an effort to find some measure of closure, he travels to the remote Alaskan town to see whether he can finally discover his brother’s fate.

Malfi’s Dread’s Hand is a creepy town, even without the reality of mass murder hanging over it like a tattered shroud. Outsider’s are not particularly welcomed, as Paul quickly learns. The twisting road he must navigate to learn anything about his brother is nearly as disorienting and treacherous as any one of the lonely paths leading into the forest and mountains beyond Dread’s Hand. Malfi’s prose is precise and taut. The reader is able to know the characters and experience the town and its environs as if he or she were there in the flesh. Malfi gradually shows the reader that in this truly remote area, nothing and no one is quite what they seem. This is quiet, reserved horror that leaves the reader with the same measure of dread that ultimately gives the town of Dread’s Hand its name.

The Outsider 

For many, me included, King is hit and miss. In my youth, I was an unapologetic and unwavering fan of this prolific author. It was sometime after the release of It that I began to be let down by the stories he told. I saw that he always showed up with a promising premise, captivating narrative, and richly detailed characters only to have everything unravel in the end. I have discovered some post-It gems along the way—Bag of Bones, The Green Mile, Desperation, Insomnia (yes, I liked this one), and Black House (sequel to The Talisman, co-written with Peter Straub). There have also been some truly disappointing clunkers—Dreamcatcher, The Regulators, Cell, Gerald’s Game, and Under the Dome spring to mind. In truth, I have not read King’s entire catalog (I still cannot speak to the concluding four books of The Dark Tower series—the first four were quite good), so I must refrain offering an all-encompassing opinion of King’s work. But I think I may safely say that along the spectrum of King’s books (and really, this can be said of most all authors), there are those that work completely and those that fail miserably (usually due to anti-climactic endings that are hung on anti-climactic revelations or absurd narrative twists—Koontz has this same problem). The Outsider is one that falls more toward the favorable while still being something of a let-down. The first four-fifths of the novel are propulsive and engaging. How can accused child-killer be in two places at the same time? The answer is interesting, but I feel like King has drawn from a similar well before. The final confrontation is short and the main characters’ defeat of the antagonist is not entirely or satisfactorily earned. There is gold in the way King handles the effects of criminal accusation upon a seemingly innocent man and the regret and subtle doubts that begin to nag and pull at the detective in charge like a pulled loose thread that refuses to come away clean and instead begins to unravel a tightly woven garment. However, The Outsider is neither necessary nor important. There is nothing new here. There is nothing that will leave its mark on the literary world or larger world beyond. King doesn’t have anything important to tell us here, but he does succeed in telling a mostly-satisfying story.  

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