Darkness on the Edge of Town by Brian Keene
2010, Leisure Books
Premise: One day the citizens of Walden wake up to find their town in perpetual darkness and with no way to communicate with the outside world. The darkness not only poses a physical threat if anyone attempts to leave town, it also has a strange and dangerous effect on the minds of the citizens of Walden.
This is the first book I’ve ever read by Brian Keene. What drew me into the story was the personality of the narrator, Robbie. He’s an average guy, delivery boy I think, who’s simply trying to get through life with his girlfriend much like every other 20-something. He has loyalty to his lfriends and to a greater extent the town of Walden. He’s an ‘every man’ for the most part, albeit a bit of a stoner, who’s thrust into extradordinary situation when the darkness arrives in town. The fact that he’s not some over the top action hero or natural born leader or jackass makes the narration made him a likeable character as well as a believable one.
The main plot of the novel focuses on Robbie, his friends, and an assortment of fellow citizens, trying to find a way past the darkness. They also attempt to find out the cause/origin of the darkness and whether the rest of the world exists beyond it. Their attempts have varying degrees of failure and minor sucesses.
Unlike most novels, there is no tangiable villian in the novel. Instead it is an ambigous presence in the form of the darkness. However, that doesn’t lessen the threat that it posses to Robbie and the rest of Walden.
In one early scene when Robbie and his friends approach the edge of town, the darkness shows them apparent hallucinations or illuisions that take the form of each characters loved ones that have passed away.
Later on in the novel, it is suggested that sudden outbursts of anger between Robbie and his girlfriend along with all the chaos and violence throughout the town is the result of the darkness’ pressence in their minds.
Whether the darkness is corrupting and tempting them into violence and anger or whether it’s the banal consequence of being trapped within the town’s limits is never fully explained. But it is interesting to see how it effects the relationships that Robbie has as the story progresses.
The characters, in particular Robbie, really drive the story. Robbie takes it upon himself early in the novel to ‘save’ people, but over the course of the story his outlook on things shift to a more self preservation attitude. It’s an interesting twist on the trope of a reluctant hero, a character starting off self-centered and developing into a ‘hero’ that saves the day. Instead Keene presents in the reverse of what we’re used to, and I think its much more believable and a refreshing take on the idea that the main character is the ‘hero’.
Midway through the novel, Robbie and his friends along with some other towns folks attempt breach the darkness. Without giving too much away, things don’t go well and Robbie and his friends find themselves the targets of a lynch mob that gathers outside their apartment building.
All of this made for a great read, however Keene drops the proverbial ball toward the end of the novel. He wrote a chapter where Robbie attempts to find answers by meeting with the local crazy homeless guy. It turns out he has some knowledge about what’ s going on but it comes across as a scatter brained mashup of bad theology and HP Lovecraft. No real answers are given and as a reader I felt it dragged on much too long.
Afterwards, Keen manages to give an ending that feels more like he ran out of steam or was simply writing to reach a predetermined word count, rather than wanting to tell a full story. Nothing is resolved by the final page. I had no idea what the fate of Robbie and his friends was, what happened to the lynch mob outside the apartment complex, or whether the world still existed outside the darkness or not.
The ending left me feeling dissatisifed, especially after reading over 200 pages and developing a connection with the characters and their plight. I don’t mind ambigous endings when it comes to short fiction or filling in some minor unanswered questions but when an author fails to conclude major plot lines, I get annoyed.
Brian Keene has a reputation for being a stellar novelist in the horror genre. I enjoyed his literary voice, and his character development. Although I’m not happy about the ending of the novel, I would check out his other work and hope that this weak ending is a fluke and not a staple of Keene’s novels.