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Now he was in a room filled with strange furniture, a room that was dark. Snow spattered against the windows like thrown sand. His mouth was dry, his eyes like hot marbles, his heart triphammering in his chest. Outside there was a hollow booming noise, like a dreadful door being thrown wide. Footfalls. Across the room was a mirror, and deep down in its silver bubble a single word appeared in green fire and that word was: REDRUM.
There have been a few ‘crazy Emmet’ stories relayed to me down through the years, given my characteristic enthusiasm for sundry things occasionally bubbling over into manic rants. One in particular my friends back in Dublin found particularly funny. We were working in a book depot in 2001 and this Canadian fellow had the misfortune to express the opinion within earshot of me that Stephen King’s 1997 television adaptation of The Shining was better than Kubrick‘s. My reaction to this pronouncement was somewhat Torrance-like. The original 1980 movie is one of my all-time favourites, and we’ll get back to that below, so consequently I have avoided the book for years for fear of disappointment.
So if I did not enjoy this book, did I experience a similar emotional upheaval to that time in the book depot?
The story concerns a family on the brink of flying apart. Father Jack Torrance is an abusive alcoholic on the wagon who recently lost his job and is in denial about his role in his misfortune. Wife Wendy tries to see past her husband’s many faults, attempting to force the familial unit to stay together through sheer force of will. Their son Danny is disturbed by the tension in the household – he does not know what the word ‘DIVORCE’ means but knows enough to associate it with the dark silences at the dinner table – but he is also cursed with psychic abilities that only confuse his five year old mind more. He has a spirit guide of sorts called Tony, who his parents write off as an imaginary friend (ironic given their rationale for that assessment actually dovetails quite neatly with the spirit’s actual nature) although their concern is growing that Danny’s relationship with the invisible boy is actually evidence of a mental breakdown.
With all the attendant pressures on the family, Jack decides to avail of an offer from an old friend to become caretaker for a hotel during the off-season. Located in snowbound Colorado, the Overlook Hotel has a dark past buried beneath its refined exterior. Jack begins to study the history of the establishment, while Wendy relaxes at the prospect of some small stability for the near future.
Before the staff of the hotel leave for the holidays, Danny encounters a cook named Dick Hallorann, who shares the young boy’s psychic abilities, which he calls ‘Shining’, and passes on a warning about the Overlook’s nature. There are many ghosts in the building, but he assures Danny for someone with the Shining it is just like looking at pictures – they cannot hurt him.
As the months pass and cabin fever sets in, Danny slowly realizes that whatever lives in the Overlook is far more dangerous than Dick told him. His protection from Tony is wavering, Jack is becoming dangerously obsessed with his role as caretaker and Wendy’s denial blinds her to what is happening to her husband. Danny is all alone in the Overlook.
King is a very problematic writer for me. I keep reading his books in the hope of some day understanding his appeal, but it never really clicks for me. Partly because of his choice of protagonists. They are usually tortured artists with drinking problems who are meant to be blue-collar men of the world I suppose, but seem more deluded than driven to me, selfish instead of inspired. The Shining is yet another clumsily sprawling tale that could do with being tightened considerably. It also features possibly the most irresponsible doctor in fiction. So you’ve been beating your son have you? Oh well, I’m sure that’s all over now. What!?
There there’s the run on psychic asides rendered in parentheses, which stylistically does not work at all. For me this writing is not atmospheric, haunting, or scary. It is just a long, drawn out sequence of unpleasant things happening to unpleasant people. Over and over again.
Kubrick nailed it. I should have stuck to the film.
He took another step forward as if hypnotized. The cabin door banged against the support post, a sound as loud as a gunshot. He swung the light on it again, caught a part of a window.
And something else, grinning back at him through the dirty glass.
American horror is dominated by the legacy of Stephen King. Any upcoming writer looking to introduce a plot involving the supernatural is measured against his incredibly popular body of work. Perhaps this is one of the reasons for scientifically reliant horror thrillers like Patient Zero which I reviewed yesterday. It is a different niche for the writer to explore, without the risk of having to measure up to the King of horror.
Nate Kenyon’s Bloodstone throws caution to the wind by letting us know from the opening pages we are taking another trip into the mystical hinterland of American horror. The story begins with the abduction of a Miami drug addicted prostitute named Angel. Her kidnapper, Billy Smith, convinces her that he is being compelled to bring her with him to some unknown destination due to a series of dreams. Angel reveals that she too has being experiencing vivid nightmares of loved ones returning from beyond the grave, but now twisted and evil. The two quickly bond due to this unusual connection between them and soon they find themselves in the town of White Falls, where they believe they will find an answer for the frightening premonitions they have witnessed.
There a disturbed young man named Jeb Taylor is losing whatever loose grip he already had on reality. Having survived the brutal murder of his mother at the hands of his father, Jeb has already lived a lifetime of abuse at the hands of the community for being the son of a deranged killer. Then he is told his father has died behind bars. The prison leaves him what few possessions his dad had, all contained within a single trunk. Jeb’s grandmother begs him to throw away the trunk. She has a dark suspicion as to what caused her son to commit the heinous crime he did. Despite her best efforts, history soon begins to fall into a familiar pattern.
What Billy and Angel discover in White Falls is a town teetering on decades of buried history. The dark tale related in the letters of settler Frederick Thomas who founded the community in the 18th century hint at the true nature of the horror waiting for the town’s inhabitants.
Kenyon embraces the tropes of supernatural horror – a community torn apart by secrets, pagan cults, possession, witchcraft – even the Necronomicon makes an appearance. Actually I found this book more enjoyable than Stephen King books I have read. I make the comparison as many of the reviews quoted on the book jacket mention that Kenyon’s writing resembles ‘early Stephen King’. I imagine this comparison can also be made due to Jeb and Billy’s addiction to alcohol, which even leads to a hallucination in a pub that is not unlike Jack Torrance’s encounter at the hotel bar in the Overlook Hotel.
What is more the characters are realized quite well and while some of the elements of the plot might seem familiar, it is executed with aplomb. Furthermore there is a disturbingly perverse undercurrent to the proceedings. The sexual guilt experienced by Jeb becomes the catalyst for his downfall and the discovered diaries of Frederick Thomas hint at incest and satanic rituals. Then there is the growing paranoia of the inhabitants of White Falls, with each of them slowly becoming aware of the sense of being watched by someone. The town itself sits on a bruise on the permeable membrane between this world and the next.
Plus it is actually scary. Finally a book for this Halloween season that actually manages to creep me out. A bewitching debut.