And it’s because of that literary obsession that I stumbled upon Michael Rowe’s recently released debut novel Enter, Night – a dark masterpiece that virtually burns the pages with a bloody incandescence.
Rowe’s debut novel is remarkable on so many different levels. Set in 1972, the story begins in the guise of a relatively conventional fiction narrative following three broken – and broke – characters on a trek from Toronto to Parr’s Landing, a little mining town in “the middle of nowhere” on the shores of Lake Superior in northern Ontario. After Christina Parr’s husband died in a tragic accident, her and her 15-year old daughter Morgan were left destitute in Toronto. And with no financial help to be had from Christina’s unemployed gay brother-in-law, Jeremy – who fled his hometown years earlier because of persecution – the trio have no other options but to return to Parr’s Landing and seek refuge with Jeremy’s “ogress” of a mother.
After living in Toronto for years, life in the remote mining town turns out to a difficult experience for Christina and Jeremy – Jeremy is haunted by his past at every turn and Christina is constantly reminded why her and her husband left so long ago. Morgan, however, finds a wild beauty in her rugged surroundings and befriends a quirky kid named Finnegan, who is obsessed with a comic book series entitled The Tomb of Dracula.
But there is something lurking in the wilderness, something awakening after years of dormancy...
Rowe gradually darkens the conventional fiction storyline until it’s undeniably stygian – a missing dog, a brutal murder in a nearby town, shadowy history involving a Jesuit mission that was attacked and decimated by Iroquois in the early 17th century, Algonquian myth surrounding evil spirits possessing humans and turning them into cannibals…
Like a vampire coaxing its victim into the darkness, that’s exactly what Rowe does to the reader. It’s narrative seduction, plain and simple – little by little, step by step, he transforms Parr’s Landing and its inhabitants into a hellish landscape populated by nightmarish monsters.
His ability to create emotionally compelling and authentic characters was certainly noteworthy but it was that coupled with his vivid writing style – specifically his subtle use of imagery and his ability to create breathtaking atmospherics – that made this novel such a hypnotic and unforgettable read. Here are a few examples:
• “The light leaking through the motel curtains was deep orange, a pellucid autumnal hue that was unique to northern regions where the snow came fast and early and winter ruled for seemingly endless months. The light spoke of stars in the violet-blue early morning sky, of columns of Canada geese streaking south across the vastness of Lake Superior and Lake Huron, while below them, the forests turned the colour of fire and rust and blood.”
• “Like a bejewelled, lacquered, well-tailored spider, Adeline Parr felt every tug on every strand of her web, which included not only Parr House, but the town of Parr’s Landing itself. Nothing and no one arrived or departed without her knowing about it.”
• “…his voice jagged and sharp as one of the stalactites hanging from the roofs of the caves…”
There are still a few months left to 2011, but I’ll say it right now – Enter, Night is the vampire fiction release of the year.
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
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