My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Benjamin Percy is a fantastic, talented writer. His prose is tight and descriptive. He’s got great imagery and you never question his characters’ motivations. I enjoyed this novel. It has a weight to it that we are sometimes missing in the horror genre. This is true “literary” horror, steeped in political tensions. Like the best of its predecessors, this book is reflective of its time, an artifact of the particular fears of a particular generation. The best horror has always stripped away the pretenses of modernity, cracking the facade and letting through a truer light of our fears and our reactions to them.
The weakness of this novel is structural. Writers of our generation grew up with television and film, and you can see that influence in a lot of modern writing. There are several parts of this book that read like a movie. The scene will cut from a character, just as something is about to happen, creating tension. However, when you return to the character, the action has already occurred and the character is left to reflect upon it. As a result, you may find out a character is dead, and then spend the chapter finding out how they died. But just as human memory is not as strong as human experience, flashback is never as strong as active narration.
Percy rectifies some of the structural damage of this narrative style by writing in present tense. As a result, the flashbacks read in the past, rather than past perfect, which would have weakened them further. However, I couldn’t escape the feeling that we are sometimes robbed of visceral, immediate experience that is such a trademark of good horror. We don’t get the cathartic emotional release because we already know the outcome of the scene.
Ultimately, the book feels like something very good, that had a shot to be something special, but just barely missed. I highly recommend it, but can’t help but think of what might have been.