Enjoy this Monday with Mildred!
This is not a book about a cute woman at a frat party, but the story of a dying paper mill town in the northeast, and two very different sisters. Bedford is dirty from a century of heavy pollution and the offending mill is closing, with disastrous results to the town’s economy. Liz doesn’t mind because she intends to escape to college with her boyfriend Bobby, who seems to love her for some reason she can’t quite understand. Liz is, after all, the sister of the town’s resident looney, Susan. There are many more characters. Many. They’re all sad for one reason or another, and there are lots of dark secrets and histories polluting the town as blackly as the paper mill.
We get to know these townspeople very well because the set up lasts for most of the book. It’s one character study after another, with tiny snippets of action after a truly frightening night at the cemetery, until the last part when the much promised big ugly finally begins. Even then author Sarah Langan treats the action like an extended character study, which was almost off putting. There is yucky gore and episodes of poignant sadness throughout the book, especially near the end.
For a first novel it’s really not bad. Langan has a good grasp of language, often sounding like a very good protégé of Stephen King. The large number of character studies especially reminded me of his early works, as well as the setting and giving the monsters a human history. There are misleading teaser chapter headings that I could have done without, and I had a hard time with not one person in the entire town without some ugly secret in their past. Seriously, not ALL of us have an ugly secret. Or do we?
The biggest problems with The Keeper are being a bit unorganized in places, and sometimes slipping into a flowery college English class style. Langan may just be a little unorganized in all her writing, which is how I read her defense of Stephen King a couple of years after this book came out. Considering how closely her first book resembles his early novels, I’m not surprised she stuck up for him, but I found the meandering series of points telling.
If you’re looking for a good, basic horror novel that digs deeply into the dark characters of a dying town, I recommend The Keeper. Watch out for sexual triggers, though, if you have a problem with such things. Langan goes to a darker place there than her mentor, who mostly ogles sex rather than use it as a weapon.