Friday, October 2, 2015

Even Monsters Need Health Care

Deep in the Darkness by Michael Laimo (2004): Solid and enjoyable horror-thriller walks in the footsteps of Arthur Machen and some H.P. Lovecraft (specifically "The Lurking Fear" in the latter case). A Manhattan doctor gets an offer he can't refuse: take over the rural New England practice of a recently deceased M.D. and get out of the city with his wife and 5-year-old daughter. What a deal!

Ha! The only place more dangerous than the city in a horror novel is the country (and paradoxically, vice versa). It might be more accurate to say that wherever you go, you should have stayed away. 

Laimo chose to tell this story within a frame narrative that establishes that something really terrible has happened from the beginning of the novel. I"m not sure it's a great choice -- it primarily explains 'where' the first-person narration comes from without adding much in the way of suspense. 

The antagonists of the novel straddle a line between 'natural' cryptid and supernatural boogeyman until very late in Deep in the Darkness. All is (sort of) revealed in a mostly satisfying manner. And Laimo has his sometimes muddle-headed protagonist of an M.D. realize that muddle-headedness, and ponder the source, as the novel progresses. People do some oddly stupid things in the course of the narrative, but there's actually an explanation for that, one that makes sense. And one that the narrator realizes, perhaps too late.

Laimo describes both the antagonists and their woodland haunts viscerally and grotesquely. The novel seems especially oriented to the smells of horror. It also gradually orients itself towards sexualized body horror as it progresses, leading to a couple of extremely graphic and disturbing scenes as the novel moves to a climax. And is a child in danger throughout the novel? Well, yeah. That never gets old.

Deep in the Darkness would probably work better if it were shorter. There's a dragginess to the middle section, a need to get on with it already given what we've seen so far.  And while the first-person narration allows for both unreliability and a refreshing dose of unlikeability in the narrator, it also makes the late-novel objectification of the female body more problematic than third-person would. Characters other than the narrator never really achieve any depth, making what happens to them, especially the wife, verge on gruesome exploitation rather than carefully constructed body horror. 

That there's a sequel to the novel makes a certain amount of sense -- Deep in the Darkness throws a twist in towards the end that allows for further expansion of the narrative while also recontextualizing everything we've read to that point. Though given that this is a first-person narrative recorded 'after' the fact, the revelation may unsuspend the disbelief of a certain portion of readers. Would a narrator lead with the revelation and explain things in terms of it? It certainly could be argued that this would be more believable, especially as the narrative is also framed as a warning to whoever finds it.  Lightly recommended.

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