Review: Darkness at the Edge of Town by Brian Keene

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I won’t beat around the bush: I hated this book. Everything you could think of to be wrong with a book was wrong with this book. To really hammer this point home, I will admit something of which I am ashamed. I wanted to stop reading this book rather early on (23% in, according to my Kindle) but I forced myself to read the whole thing for the sole purpose of writing a bad review of it. It became sort of a point of pride for me. I read this terrible book so that you never have to read it. You’re welcome.

The book starts out on the wrong foot. Our narrator is Robbie Higgins and he spends a few pages rambling senselessly before informing the reader that he is fortifying himself with whiskey in order to write. All right. After that he gets a bit closer to the point. He starts to talk about his town, pre-darkness. It’s your standard small town with the standard residents. He details his neighbors, all nice enough people. He talks about his girlfriend, Christy. She’s an over-emotional, drug dependent, drama queen. She got on my nerves almost immediately.

Mostly, he talks about the darkness. Now, this was my biggest problem with the book. The genre of the story is a horror-fantasy sort of mix. It’s a cross between Under the Dome by Stephen King (also a terrible book, in my opinion) and The Mist, also by Stephen King (a much better short story). Basically, the town is enclosed by a cover of darkness. The sky is completely shrouded and the ways out of town are blocked by walls of living darkness. The problem for me is that the author doesn’t seem too concerned about continuity in regards to the effects of the darkness. First, he says the temperature never fluctuates. Later, he says that it’s slowly getting colder. He flirts with scientific explanations but he never actually settles on any one constant. More or less his conclusion is this: magic can do whatever it wants. I cannot abide magic with no rules. Even the Harry Potter universe had rules and that was a story for children. Come on, man.

Since I brought up Harry Potter, let’s discuss something else that bugged me. For fully 2/3s of the book, the darkness is the bad guy. Towards the end, though, the author tries to put a name to the darkness. You might have already guessed it, since it’s related to Harry Potter in some way. He Who Must Not Be Named. Said with no irony, with no nudge and a wink, with nothing to suggest that this guy comprehends what he’s saying. This story is about magic, witches, and a dark force that can’t be named. The connection is so obvious that ignoring it has to be a conscious choice.

The last thing I want to complain about is the narrator himself. The story is told in first person, so, to a certain extent, I expect and accept a casual writing style. However, I think Brian Keene overdid it. Robbie Higgins is not an educated man and so the over-use of profanity in his writing makes sense. Particularly due to the truly messed up situation he’s in. But the extent to which Keene worked in swears instead made it look like he was the one who couldn’t think of a better way to emphasize his point. Through the magic of the search function on my Kindle I counted that Keene uses variations of the word “fuck” 210 times in a 306 page book. That’s damn near a fuck on every page. I don’t think I’m being unreasonable when I call that excessive.

Incredibly long review made short, the story was rambling and clumsy and wasn’t a pleasure at all to read. I suppose you can read it if you like being frustrated and annoyed. Otherwise, skip it.

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Filed under Reading, Writing

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