Enter, Night

July 12, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

nightEnter, Night by Michael Rowe

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A few months back, I read an article highlighting ten of the best horror novels “You’ve Never Read”. Aside from being pretty proud of myself for having read five of them, I was happy to add five more books to my to-read list, so when Enter, Night popped up in my random reads generator, I was eager to get started on it.

Enter, Night is a vampire novel that plays around with your expectations a bit, since when it begins, the “vampire” we meet is clearly just a regular guy wishing he were a vampire. He’s still murderous, and he still drinks blood, but he lacks the fangs, and there’s a strong vibe suggesting that he’s just crazy. From there, the story, set in 1971, shifts to the small town of Parr’s Landing, an old mining town that’s run dry, leaving most people struggling for work. There’s a definite parallel between a supernatural creature who sucks people dry and a small, do-nothing town that sucks its inhabitants dry, and that’s just the first symbolic connection we find in the novel.

Our main characters are: Adeline Parr, the rich, privileged, self-entitled surviving matriarch of the family who ran the mining company; her recently-widowed daughter-in-law, Christine, who left Parr’s Landing sixteen years ago when she became pregnant out of wedlock with Adeline’s son; Christine’s daughter Morgan; and Adeline’s other son, Jeremy, a gay man who fled Parr’s Landing at seventeen after his mother sent him to a gay reformation camp that consisted of physical and psychological torture. After Christine loses her husband in a car accident, and the three find themselves out of work, with no insurance or prospects, they return home to Adeline, which is probably the worst decision of their lives.

Adeline is one of the most despicable characters ever created for fiction. She’s hateful, entitled, arrogant, and condescending, and once her family returns home, she takes it as an opportunity to belittle and control them. Christine is nothing more than a slut in her eyes, and she’s passed that feeling along to everyone else in town. She despises her gay son, going so far as to tell Jeremy that she wished he had died instead of her other son, and what she sees as a new start in Morgan falls apart as soon as she walks home from school with another boy. She’s horrible and unlikable, and she’s not even the main antagonist in the story.

The other boy Morgan befriends is Finn, who is younger than she by four years, and who loves his black lab more than anything in the world. Morgan is innocence personified, though that all changes as soon as strange things start happening around the town. It ties back to the beginning of the book, with the “vampire” who is on a killing spree, but Finn is the heart of the story, not in the sense that he’s the most important character, but that he’s the only one who knows how to love. The relationship between him and his dog is expertly crafted, and anyone who’s had a pet will connect with them both.

I’m spending a lot of time talking about the characters because this is where Rowe’s talents really shine. All of them feel realized, and he easily gets you to feel how he wants you to feel about all of them. We get glimpses into other characters in town, including a cop who was Jeremy’s first love, and a Native American who knows a lot about the history of Parr’s Landing, who are less realized, but no less effective to the story, but the story is really about that small circle of characters and their strange, dysfunctional relationships.

What I found less impressive about the book was its structure and pacing. The book opens with a lengthy section involving the “vampire” and a small part of his killing spree, and then abandons it to introduce the main characters. The next long section of the novel is about introducing our characters, along with the town itself, peppered with small references to what’s going on beneath the town. The last hundred pages are when all hell breaks loose, and it wraps up fairly quickly, and without a clear resolution. With so much time spent on the vampires and the town, I expected there to be some firm ending telling us what happened, but the story stops just as all that gets started. I don’t mind ambiguous endings, but I’d like my stories to at least bring the main conflict to a close, and Enter, Night doesn’t do that.

Following the end of the story is a chapter telling us about how the vampirism began. I give Rowe credit for tying in the vampires with the legends of the Wendigo; it might not be the first time an author has connected those two legends, but it’s the first I can recall reading. The thing is, this chapter takes us back over 300 years ago, and doesn’t involve any of the people we’ve just connected with, making the whole thing anticlimactic, since we no longer have any connection with the story being told. To make things worse, the publisher chose to stylize that chapter with page backgrounds to make them look like wrinkled manuscript pages, which was just distracting. Plus, the central decision of the story — that Christine and her family return to live with Adeline — didn’t ring true with me. I know they were desperate, but as horrible as Adeline was, why on earth would they choose living with her over anything else?

The book reads more like a literary character examination than an actual horror novel, and I suspect that this book would work more for literary readers than for horror readers. What Rowe does with his vampires doesn’t make them stand out in a large field of vampire novels, so anyone familiar with most of them won’t find anything new here. Readers who only know the broad strokes of vampirism might be more impressed with how he handles the creatures, though.

There are a lot of things to like about this book, namely in the character development, but it’s still not a perfect book for me. I may have raised my expectations too much, based on how much I had heard about this book, and I would have liked it a lot more if the structure had been better, but I would only recommend this book with reservations, especially to horror readers. He does create atmosphere and tension well, but it seems like it stops just as it starts to get interesting.

Unfortunate Musical Connection: “Enter Sandman” by Metallica (Seriously. I got it stuck in my head every time I picked up this book.)

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