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THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

REVIEW: MICHAEL ROWE "ENTER, NIGHT"



Once upon a time, ages ago it seems, there was a blood-drinking undead monster people used to call a "vampire."  Maybe you have heard of it.  These beings were not preening teenage pretty boys, Swedish sex symbols, or thinly disguised sparkly allegories for Mormonism. They were personifications of disease and contagion, living dead whose rabid bite spread virulence in ever-widening circles of infection.

And they were scary motherfuckers.

Rowe's genuinely frightening Enter, Night is set in 1972, intentionally or unintentionally right around the time vampires stopped being scary and instead became personifications of Erica Jong's "zipless fuck."


Michael Rowe's genuinely frightening Enter, Night is set in 1972, intentionally or unintentionally right around the time vampires stopped being scary and instead became personifications of Erica Jong's "zipless fuck."  Starting with TV's Barnabas Collins in 1967, and culminating in Frank Langella's blow-dried and fangless Dracula (1979), the 70s were when vampires shed their less attractive attributes and handed them off to their poorer zombie cousins.  This is the decade that brought us books like The Dracula Tape (1975), Interview with the Vampire (1976) and Hotel Transylvania (1978), each of which launched a popular series of good-guy vampire books, a trend which finally reached its bloodless nadir in the Twilight frenzy.  Published right in the midst of True Blood and Twilight and Vampire Diaries mania, Enter, Night (2011) joyously and utterly rejects the post-Seventies vampire, taking us back to the days when vampires horrified rather than titillated.

In many ways, Enter, Night echoes the one truly great vampire novel of the 70s, Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot.  If I called it a "Canadian 'Salem's Lot" I would do so as a compliment.  Both novels feature protagonists who return to the small town they grew up in after losing a spouse, both feature an antagonist strongly resembling Stoker's King Vampire, both have something to say about the nature of insular communities.  Hell, both even have young boys who figure out what is going on before the adults do.  But Enter, Night is not merely "Kurt Barlow visits Northern Ontario."  We could, in fact, draw just as many parallels to Dark Shadows (a town named after the wealthy family that founded it, a slumbering evil awakened, etc).  Enter, Night simply manages to pay tribute to its influences and roots while still feeling fresh.

This is not an easy trick, considering how much ink has already been spilled on the vampire, and I tip my hat to Rowe for having the chutzpah to try.  One of the things that has kept me away from a  "vampire" book despite a fascination with the buggers is that 'Salem's Lot has already been written.  Really the only way to write something original about them is to reinvent the vampire (the usual route) or find a new setting to place the classic vampire in.  Rowe choses the path less taken and weaves his tale through Canadian history, so much so that "Canada" is almost the main character in the book.  From the 17th century missionary work of French Jesuits to the brutal mind-20th century "Indian school" where a Native American protagonist had his culture beaten out of him, Rowe makes sure his novel isn't 'Salem's Lot or Dracula by keeping his setting up front on each page.  

The plot is fairly simple.  A mother returns to the small town she ran off from with her (then) boyfriend and now (deceased) husband.  Pregnant at the time, the couple was fleeing his mother, the tyrannical Mommie Dearest matriarch who runs the entire town.  Now destitute after her husband's death, she is coming to stay with her wealthy mother-in-law, accompanied by her fifteen-year-old daughter and her late husband's gay younger brother (who also fled Mommie Dearest after she had him committed at the age of seventeen for six months to "cure" him of his homosexuality).  A lot of the novel's color and texture comes from this rather baroque family drama, mainly from the strong portrayals of the gay brother and the widow (the daughter reads a bit too underdeveloped and uncomplicated for a teenager, and the grandmother is a bit too stereotypically ├╝ber-bitch).

The returning trio has horrible timing.  At the same time they come home, a deranged serial killer arrives as well, a voice calling to him from Spirit Rock, a spot outside of town were dogs suffer sudden panic attacks, psychopaths hear whispers, and the local Ojibwa once drew paintings of the wendigo and manitou.  What the killer unleashes there sets the rest of the novel in motion.

I want to avoid specifics, but I will say that these are classic vampires Rowe is dealing with, and in a novel commentary on Canadian history offers these monsters as just another horror European colonialism inflicted on the native populace.  The last section of the book, in fact, delves into their backstory and is a chilling tale in and of itself (one can easily see this part of the book as a movie). There are times when Rowe beats the dead analogy horse one too many times--pointing out the similarities between colonialism and vampirism, the rich and vampirism, etc--but these passages are outweighed by the genuine chills he packs into the book.  There is a scene mid-way through, between a twelve-year-old boy and his dog, that earns a Hall of Fame spot in vampire literature (the boy himself, who I mentioned briefly above, is another memorable character...he and the gay brother-in-law were personal favourites).

You know all those horror cliches about who can and who can't get killed?  Rowe never read them. 

At the risk of spoilers, another fine aspect of Rowe's storytelling is that no one is safe.  You know all those horror cliches about who can and who can't get killed?  Rowe never read them.  There were several times when my jaw dropped open.  In addition, no one seems to have ever told him you are supposed to wrap everything up neatly at the end.  Good for him.

All in all, if you like horror novels and vampires, this is one that needs to be on your list.  

2 comments:

  1. Well. This made my night. Thank you so much!

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    Replies
    1. My pleasure. Like all fans of the genre I wade through a lot of horror, and its a bit like panning for gold. "Enter, Night" is one of the few vampire novels to make it top shelf. Cheers on that!

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