Review: “Dark Hollow,” Brian Keene

Pros: Good horror material
Cons: Everything about how the female characters are handled.
Rating: 2 out of 5

I picked up Brian Keene’s novel Dark Hollow thanks to Book Twitter, and this may be the second time they’ve let me down (don’t worry; they’re still doing an overall great job). Adam is a mystery writer who lives with his wife, Tara. She’s had two miscarriages, and has decided to quit trying–to such an extent that the couple’s relationship is now sexless. The couple turns to their cowardly mutt, Big Steve, for comfort. The Pennsylvania town they live in has a bit of a strange reputation–it has an extremely low crime rate, but everyone seem to be gettin’ it on. People are constantly sleeping around, hooking up at work, and so on, especially when Spring starts. One morning a woman jogging through Adam’s neighborhood seems to be flirting with him, and as soon as he hears a mysterious fluting melody, he’s instantly turned on. When he takes Steve for a walk in the woods, he accidentally comes upon a very salacious scene involving a lewd statue of a satyr that comes to life. After that, it looks like the satyr sets his sights on all the women of the town, and Adam and his friends and neighbors will have to save the day.

In a general sense as a horror novel, this is great. There’s tension, an intriguing back-story, excellent world-building, etc. The characters are interesting (at least, most of the male ones, but I’ll come back to that). I like Adam–he’s neither a terrible nor a great writer. He’s just starting to get to the point where maybe he can make a sort-of living with his writing. The neighborhood group of friends–especially the core of Adam, Merle, and Dale–is interesting. They’re all very different people, but they have a nice dynamic going. They and Cory and Cliff make an excellent knot of horror story protagonists, calling on all that’s special to them to defeat a very powerful enemy. My favorite part is an old journal Adam finds that explains how everything started–this sort of thing can go wrong and suck the momentum out of a story, but instead it held my attention quite admirably.

The problem, of course, is the women in this book. Tara’s the only one who has any real depth to her, and her personality almost entirely consists of miscarriage trauma. When the women are mind-controlled, they become extremely wanton and very obviously want to have sex with the satyr. We never get to see them even attempt to resist the mind control. Not only that, but Tara and one of her friends start taunting their husbands over their specific sexual inadequacies, making them seem complicit in their rapes. There’s way too much in here that implies that the women might have wanted it, or might want the babies the satyr wants to have, or otherwise got something out of the situation. And we’re not talking about just one or two women–a whole handful go missing. I’m honestly pretty appalled at how this subject is handled. Not least because I’ve been told by readers whose taste I trust that Keene’s other work isn’t like this.

(Content note for explicit sex, mind-control rape, animal harm, gore, etc.)

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