Review: “The Hollower,” Mary SanGiovanni

Pros: Builds up into something gorgeous
Cons: Starts out a little mundane
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Mary SanGiovanni’s The Hollower (The Hollower Trilogy Book 1) introduces us to Max Feinstein, who sees an unearthly figure called the Hollower. It’s dressed all in black, with a black hat and trench coat. It has no hands beneath its gloves. Its face is a featureless white: no eyes, no nose, no mouth. When Max commits suicide, he leaves a message for another person who sees the Hollower, Dave. Dave is a journalist whose younger sister, Sally, is mentally ill. He sees the Hollower as well, and drinks heavily to stave off both it and the feelings of helplessness with regard to Sally. Former coke-addict Erik also sees the Hollower, although he calls it the Jones, as in jonesing for a high. He’s afraid it will cause him to relapse, and doing so would cost him Casey, the love of his life. Bartender Cheryl, who knows both Erik and Dave from the bar she tends, has heard the voice of the Hollower for some time, and recently it’s started appearing to her. It knows about her childhood trauma, and uses it against her. 11-year-old Sean, who lives across the street from Max, sometimes sees the Hollower standing in Max’s window, or out on the street. It seems able to stretch something of its influence right into Sean’s house. When Cheryl goes to Detective DeMarco to report a break-in and threatening behavior at the bar, then finds herself admitting the man had no face, she finds DeMarco to be surprisingly sympathetic. The whole thing goes to Hell, though, when Sally goes missing from the hospital.

At first this book seemed a bit mundane, particularly when held up against some of SanGiovanni’s other work, such as Chills, Behind the Door, and especially Thrall. The bad guy is basically just a man with no face, who sometimes whispers frightening things to people. Luckily things pick up, with the Hollower gradually becoming more. We even get a passage told from its point of view, which is surprising, and carried off well. There’s one spot that maintains that it “could be anywhere it wanted, anyone it wanted, at any time.” Unfortunately this kind of begs the question of how anyone could possibly stop it if it wanted to kill someone. But we eventually see snatches of unusual behavior–such as its unwillingness to touch anyone–that make things believable. Eventually SanGiovanni puts the ‘cosmic’ in ‘cosmic horror’, and the world comes apart at the seams.

Such grotesque skins they had, to contain such delicate meat.

The characters have a fair amount of depth. Cheryl’s a little borderline, with her giggling and cooing, but luckily there’s a bit more to her than just that. I liked Sean, who is a believably mature eleven without being overly precocious, and Detective DeMarco is probably my favorite character. She’s practical and smart, but knows when it’s time to believe her eyes and her hunches. The pacing is also quite good, ramping up steadily as the book goes on. I look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy!

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