Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Written Word Wed. - Time to Find Some Other Filler . . .

Due to feeling sickly yesterday, no Crown of Stars review was composed. Lo siento. Instead, I shall now burn the last of my buffer by posting my final review written for my Genre Fiction class. This time, the genre is Horror.

Summer of Night by Dan Simmons

This novel is set in the small Illinois town of Elm Haven in the summer of 1960. It opens on the last day of school, as sixth grader Dale Stewart and his friends are celebrating the end of not only the school year, but also the end of their time at the creepy school house known as Old Central, which is scheduled to be demolished that summer. But the joys of summertime are soon dimmed as the disappearance of classmate Tubby Cooke on the last day of school triggers a series of strange events: studious Dale discovers that his younger daredevil of a brother Lawrence's fears of monsters lurking in the dark are well-founded; athletic and popular altar-boy Mike O’Rourke is stalked by a mysterious figure dressed in WWI gear who greatly resembles a man thought long-dead; obnoxious class clown Jim Harlen stumbles across a meeting between his current teacher Mrs. Doubbet and his former teacher Mrs. Duggan, who is surprisingly active for a corpse; eccentric genius Duane McBride delves into the history of Old Central and the mysterious (and presumably cursed) artifact known as the Borgia Bell which has hung, unrung and undisturbed, for decades in the boarded up towers of Old Central; and Cordie Cooke, half-crazy sister of the missing Tubby, heads into town with a shotgun, determined to hunt down those responsible for sending a half-dead mockery of Tubby to plague her family. Soon, the children of Elm Haven learn that a crime of violence from decades before has awoken a powerful force of evil, a force which was now ready to consume the souls of the entire town . . . and that was just for a start . . .

This is an example of what Saricks referred to as a Storyteller horror novel. The story begins with a normal town which is slowly besieged by malevolent forces before the gigantic climax of the final battle between the children and the evil force. The focus is more on atmosphere than on graphic depictions of horrific acts. There are a few gruesome descriptive passages, but nothing too extreme. Once the evil reveals itself, the pace is fast and engrossing. The novel probably fits best in the Devil subgenre, as the evil force behind everything is definitely demonic in nature, and is personified in the cursed object of the Borgia Bell. This seems reinforced by the fact that the evil creatures stalking the boys are vulnerable to Holy Water and Communion Wafers, but only when wielded by altar-boy Mike, the only one of the group with strong religious convictions. However, towards the end the force’s servants scoff at the Christian aspect of its identity, and much of the imagery of the creature at the end remind me more of Old Gods stories a la Lovecraft, with the ancient force being summoned by loyal followers ready to see it returned to its place of power.

I chose to read Summer of Night because the author had written one of my favorite SF novels, Hyperion, and I wasn’t disappointed. This book was very well written with well-developed and extremely likable characters. The only character who bothered me was the class-clown Harlen, but that was part of the character’s function in the novel, to be the one self-centered jerk in the group. And, as the novel progressed, even Harlen’s actions made more sense as you learned more of his background. I found myself caring quite a bit for these characters, and when the first of the children finally falls prey to the evil, I was shocked and dismayed to see his life cut short, a sure sign of an engaging story. In fact, I stayed up till almost 3 A.M. a couple of nights in a row because I was so caught up in the story.

I would definitely recommend this book to other fans of horror, especially those who enjoy Storyteller horror novels. In many ways it reminded me of a supernatural Stand by Me, and would probably appeal to readers who enjoy coming-of-age adventure stories. This book might also appeal to fans of fantasy, due to the supernatural elements involved, and fans of thrillers and suspense novels might enjoy the break-neck pace of the novel.