Pros: Jumping at shadows
Cons: Slow build-up; uninteresting characters; moralizing exposition
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
First posted 7/3/2000
I enjoyed some parts of “Darker than Night,” but I’ll be surprised if it wins any awards. It’s a horror novel by Owl Goingback about a writer and his family who move out into the country to get away from the terrors of the modern city. Unfortunately, the house they move into – once owned by the writer’s crazy grandmother – has its own terrors waiting for them.
The conceit of the writer-protagonist was once an amusing diversion, especially in the horror field. Unfortunately it’s been overused. Using a novelist as the main character is not inherently bad; Mr. Goingback just had the misfortune to do it after it’s been done to death.
The book is on the formulaic side of horror; there are no particular surprises. Even the setup I described before has been done time and time again. The Native American aspects and background are interesting and are among the few things that make this book stand out; most of them, unfortunately, are delivered in dry, expository paragraphs. Those parts that are delivered with a touch of emotion by the crazy Indian in the story are very good. Those that sound like they came straight out of an encyclopedia are not – they tend to make the reader’s eyes skim right past.
I found it difficult to identify with the family in the story, and I found myself wondering whether Mr. Goingback had really identified with them either. They seemed to be held at arm’s length and studied, rather than held up close where we could get under their skins. I think the crazy old Indian would have made a much better main character – he seemed to have much more life and emotion to him – but he came on stage only a few times.
The active and frightening parts of the novel – in other words, the second half – were much better than the rest. Certainly there were times that I found myself jumping at shadows, and that’s a good sign! The build-up, though, was slow and flat, broken up by exposition and a few rants. And although the frightening parts were frightening, I didn’t care enough about the characters to be afraid for them.
I wanted the book to be both shorter and longer. I wanted the slow, expository parts to go away. I wanted the family to gain more dimension. I wanted certain things to be given more attention – there were a couple of deaths that seemed hasty and unemotional, and I thought they could have been more than that. And I think that the Indian’s story might have been much more interesting than the family’s.
If you’re looking for an afternoon’s quick scare, then by all means pick up this book; it’s a decent read. If you’re looking for a top-notch night of fright, then you might want to look elsewhere. This book is too formulaic, too slow, and too flat to deliver.