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DARK HOLLOW - 2008
by Brian Keene
Publisher: Leisure Books
Write about what you know. Damn it, write about what you know!
Brian Keene knows writing and he knows his area of the United States, so he wrote about that in his latest novel, DARK HOLLOW.
Keene isn't writing about vampires, zombies, or ghouls this time around, he goes for something rather rare in Horror novels as I don't immediately call to mind anyone writing about an evil Satyr.
Yes, Del Toro made PAN'S LABYRINTH a few years back, but the varmint wasn't exactly evil. Not like this Satyr is evil. Let me tell you, Keene's Pan is vile!
But the book starts with a blow job.
Adam Senft is the name of our protagonist and he is walking his old dog Big Steve (ahem!) through the woods behind his house when he comes across one of his neighbors, Shelley Carpenter, slobbing the knob of a big hairy man. Or maybe its a statue. No, it's a man. Damn but it's a big man. Or wait, IS that a man? The big hairy man is Pan, or at least, "A" Pan, and invites Adam to "Come celebrate the season."
In the presence of the creature, Adam finds himself involuntarily aroused, but balks at the suggestion of whatever the big hairy, stinky guy might be suggesting, and hightails it outta there.
Upon returning home, Adam tries to put it all out of his head. It couldn't have been what he thought he saw and hopes his wife gets home soon because, in his current state, he can't write. Nope, his head is too messed up for writing. Next thing he knows he's drinking beers with his buds and tentatively but surely, the tale of what Adam saw, or what he thinks he might have seen, comes pouring out. The reception isn't what he expected. Adam and his wife, Tara, are relatively new to the neighborhood, and as Adam discovers, the oldtimers in the hood don't cotton to them woods much. Something ain't right with those woods.
Adam has stumbled onto a stunning mystery that the locals have no direct knowledge of, but plenty of awareness about. Tales of mysterious and even deadly doings have a history within those woods. Adam's friends and neighbors have, for years, taken a truce style mentality about the woods. We don't bother what ever is in there and whatever it is leaves us alone in kind. As with all tales of Dark Wood mythos, the old myth has decided to end that unspoken truce and invade modern urbania.
Women start disappearing from their homes. Their men folk soon go missing or are found dead. As far as Adam can tell, nobody has seen Shelley since he saw Shelley and he might be the last one to have seen her alive.
Naturally you can't have people just up and disappear without the police getting involved. And you can't have disappearances and the law getting involved without the media getting involved. The media are there to report and create the news. The police are there to figure out what the news is, and the folks who live there, like Adam, Tara, and friends like Merle and Paul are there to be chewed up and spit out. And of course there's Adam. Adam has a small amount of celebrity status as a published writer and doesn't need or want the kind of attention that is parking on his street and raising broadcast antennas.
Keene takes a leisurely pace with all of this. Which is not to say that the story doesn't start off with a hook. But Keene is wise to the idea of not starting off with a bang and then drifting through character development for the next forty or so pages until the varmint returns. Throughout DARK HOLLOW, the Pan is always on the periphery, and Adam can tell whenever he becomes inexplicably aroused, that the creature is near. Which makes getting an erection a terrifying thing.
And yet, the whole sexual stimulus motif fits right in with Americana myth of forecasting storms by the aches in your joints or the numbness in your fingers or toes.
"When my arthritus starts actin' up, there's a gonna be a storm."
"When I pop a boner, someone is fixin' ta screw my wife!"
The men in DARK HOLLOW come to fear their inexplicable states of physical erections without the mental arousal that should go along with it. In this way, DARK HOLLOW is very sexual, but never sexy.
Of course, there are some of the flaws we've come to expect from Keene as well. Keene still doesn't know how to write women. Adam's wife Tara, who is a major figure in the book, is only described by how Adam feels about her. Tara reacts, but is never fleshed out by her behavior or her history. Male characters, like Merle, Dale, and even Adam's dog are better written. Even tertiary characters like Paul Legerski or the historical character of Nelson LeHorn are fully fleshed out. Yet all the women characters are paper doll personas, there only to give the men folk a chance to reveal their own emotions.
All said though, Keene keeps a strong fascination on his tale and the alien aspects of his Satyr subject drew me in with a slow awakening knowledge of the creature, the history, the threat, and its strengths. I'm no expert on old Greek myth, but that wasn't required for DARK HOLLOW, as Keene creates a world of dangers un-conceived by his characters. Just as we think we've figured out our part of the world and our place of relative safety within it, a predator we never considered walks in through our backdoor, makes itself welcome, and invites us to celebrate its return.
I could be wrong, But I think I felt Richard Laymon's ghost flitting through the pages. The pace and plot reminded me of Laymon's THE CELLER even though the creature and the characters were wholly different.
In DARK HOLLOW, the Satyr is the well-endowed and monstrously potent expression of a man's fear of not satisfying his woman. Of a man not being enough of anything to satisfy his own true love: Not big enough, not hard enough, not potent enough, simply not enough of anything to really matter to the person who matters to him the most. Keene writes of the Satyr as the interloping adulterer that sneaks up from behind to steal our women and render us cuckolds. One so confident of his prowess, that when caught invites us to join in the celebration.
I'll pass on the Satyr's offer, thanks. I'm not interested in attending a party thrown by Grizzlies either, but I enjoyed DARK HOLLOW for its urban tale of heart tightening terror.
This review copyright 2008 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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DARK HOLLOW was originally released in a limited edition as
THE RUTTING SEASON.