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The Hollower - Mary Sangiovanni Horror Book Review
Horror books Review
In the introduction to Mary SanGiovanni’s debut horror novel The Hollower, author Brian Keene poses the question to the reader: What is fear? Is it truly the gore-streaked movies that we flock to night after night, the shock-factor exposés of gruesome torture and brutal dissection which we have all but become numb to and abuse as idle amusement? Or does true fear quicken from the anticipation of what we cannot see or control, that liquid darkness spawned of our own subconscious that seeps into our lives, striking us when we are at our weakest and least suspecting? Could it be the kind of terror that can shatter the fragile human psyche leaving us far worse off than dead? Mary SanGiovanni would have you believe this to be true. However, I am not sure entirely if her novel expresses the depth of this more deviant and sinister nature of emotional and psychological fear.
Set in the sleepy little New Jersey town of Lakehaven, The Hollower follows the lives of six individuals (a reporter, the reporter’s mentally unstable sister, a detective, a bartender, a recovering coke addict, and an eleven year-old kid) as they wage battle with a faceless, paranormal creature that taps into their deepest subconscious demons and uses them to create terrifying hallucinations to drive them, one by one, into madness and eventual death. In concept, this sounds like the making of a truly horrific and psychologically thrilling novel, but in reality the story fell a little short of dragging you across the threshold into the pitch-black darkness this creature was capable of.
The human psyche is the ultimate dungeon of twisted psychosis and in a novel about using that subconscious against a person the ability to make the reader cringe with the subtle understanding and fear of what is possible is crucial. Each time I felt myself being drawn into a new scene build, expecting to be scared or disturbed, the scene ended with an anticlimactic fizzle, as if SanGiovanni could take you to the hazy edge of insanity, but could not allow it to grab you by the throat and shake you till you squirmed. While SanGiovanni attempted to tap into the inner demons of her characters, too little in-depth character background development was done for the read to really sink their teeth into them and form a solid understanding of how dark and unstable these individuals are. At times, I found myself wondering, out of all of the people in Lakehaven, why did The Hollower choose these people since their demons did not seem anymore sinister than the demons of most people, perhaps even less?
However, the breakneck pace of the book kept me from focusing too much on those details. While I am one of those readers who usually has to make a connection to the characters in a book for it to hold my attention span for more than a few chapters, the The Hollower launched so quickly into the action that the lack of character development became more of a minor personal irritation, than a true flaw. In fact, the novel has the feel of being written specifically with the purpose of being adapted to a screenplay later on. Because of this, the story, at times, feels a bit predictable with cliché settings and dialogue typical of most mainstream horror movies. The bar, the lakeside town, the sleepy little suburban neighborhood; the setting felt cozy and comfortable, something I’ve seen or read many times before. The Hollower also felt rushed due to this movie script momentum and left me wondering if there were crucial parts of the story which had been left out for the sake of pace. It scrambles quickly towards a confusingly psychedelic ending that, unfortunately, does not deliver the earth-shaking blow I know it was meant to deal the reader. I feel that this anticlimactic ending is in part due to the lack of substantial build-up and suspenseful tension in the preceding chapters. It’s almost as if I were watching the TV version of a feature movie where important scenes, that might make it Oscar-worthy, were deleted in order to make it fit into a primetime slot.
With all of the above commentary said, while I found quite a bit of fault with The Hollower for its tame growl about the nature of fear and hasty development, I did actually enjoy reading it. It’s a light read, a good book to relax on the weekend with or take on an airplane with you. Mary SanGiovanni has the beginnings of a solid literary voice and a quick pace, which keeps you moving nonstop through the story. I’ll be interested to see what her next novel consists of and I get the sense that there is a sequel in the works. The Hollower is not going scare you senseless, though, if you’re looking for that kind of novel. It won’t make you curl up in your chair, unable to put your feet on the ground for fear of what lurks beneath, or leave you sleeping with the lights on. It will, however, quite possibly, cause you to sit back and wonder just what your personal fear is and what demons might be lurking in your subconscious that, if brought to light, could destroy you.