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The Keeper Mass Market Paperback – August 29, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
In her assured but overstuffed horror debut, Langan lovingly crafts the struggling town of Bedford, Maine, its unlucky inhabitants and the troubling history of the town's shuttered paper mill, before tearing it all to bloody pieces. Bedford is haunted by the beautiful Susan Marley, a damaged young woman who wanders the streets and never speaks a word, stirring "feeling[s] of something undone, something quite wrong, at the sight of her." Those feelings are strongest in Susan's maladjusted little sister, Liz, wracked with guilt over Susan's fate; their mother, who refuses to acknowledge her wayward daughter's existence; and alcoholic high school teacher Paul Martin, who once had an affair with Susan. Susan's fall to her death in the final, rain-soaked days of winter triggers a series of events that bring the buried secrets of the town to terrifying reality—people and animals rise from the dead, and a spirit of homicidal rage grips the living. Fighting to survive, Langan's characters come brilliantly to life, their inner conflicts rendered in sharp but exhausting detail at once expansive and constricting, slowing the narrative to a crawl just before it whips into frenzied, graphic violence. This is horror on a big scale, akin to the more ambitious work of Stephen King, and though Langan's enormous imagination can slow her narrative, this effective debut promises great things to come. (Oct.)
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“it’s the only horror story I’ve read recently that finds adequate metaphors for the self-destructive properties of anger.” (New York Times Book Review)
“[A] distinct and juicy flavor all its own. THE KEEPER begins what should be a very fruitful career.” (Peter Straub, New York Times bestselling author of IN THE NIGHT ROOM)
“A smart, brand-new take on the haunted house story…hard to believe this is a first novel.” (Jack Ketchum, author of OFFSPRING)
“[A] brilliant debut, heralding the arrival of a major talent.” (Tim Lebbon, author of DUSK and BERSERK)
“THE KEEPER kept me up, late into the night...I’m hoping for a whole shelf of novels by Langan.” (Kelly Link, author of MAGIC FOR BEGINNERS)
“A dark and bracingly bleak tale of supernatural terror.” (Ramsey Campbell, author of SECRET STORY)
“Deft and disturbing... twists expectations into surreal surprises... hypnotic reading - an assured and impressive debut.” (Douglas E. Winter)
“An astonishing first novel...chilling, haunting, and so smartly written that the pages fly by like the wind.” (Ray Garton, author of THE LOVELIEST DEAD)
“Akin to the more ambitious work of Stephen King...this effective debut promises great things to come.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Echoes of Stephen King resound...the first fruits of a most promising career.” (Washington Times)
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Her sister Liz tries to mend the bonds broken when their father chose Susan as his favorite. Liz tries to ignore what he did to her older sister unlike her mother who chooses to believe her oldest daughter is dead. When Susan dies in an accident, most people are relieved, but that changes to horror as she rises from the grave to make her neighbors face what they are.
Nobody will believe the aptly naked THE KEEPER is Sarah Langan's first novel because the tension that mounts will remind the audience of King and Koontz. The character seem real, which makes the events that more frightening as the darkness inside of everyone threatens to emerge supreme. Keep the lights on as this is a dark scary thriller.
But no one’s thinking about the mill and the town’s economy. Instead, they’re all focused on Susan Marley. She’s a silent, beautiful woman in her mid-20’s who lives in squalor, turning a trick now and then to stay supplied with Campbell’s tomato soup, which she eats straight out of the can. She appears nightly in just about everyone’s nightmares, making her a sort of literary ghost of Dickens’s Jacob Marley.
One of the people most haunted by Susan is her sister, Liz. Liz is in high school, and is planning to put Bedford behind her as soon as possible and never come back, beginning with going to college at the closest state university. As The Keeper opens, Liz is visiting her father’s grave to tell him just that when Susan shows up, dressed for a summer day even though it’s March — still winter in Maine — and physically attacks Liz. It should have been you, Susan tells her sister, silently, and Liz knows exactly what Susan is talking about, there, at her father’s grave.
Susan haunts the town. Her mother knew, at some level, what her husband was doing to her daughter, but chose not to see it. Paul Martin, a high school teacher who is a barely functional alcoholic, has used Susan’s body frequently as an escape from his depressed wife; but he also tries to take care of her from time to time, buying food, cleaning her apartment up a bit. Liz is physically threatened by Susan more than once, in the real world and in her dreams. Liz’s boyfriend, Bobby, tries to help Liz deal with her fear of her sister, but his own fear makes him impatient with Liz. The entire town is uneasy; there are arguments between parents and children, bar fights; people drink too much, people hallucinate, teenagers let themselves fall deep into the darkness of their own apocalyptic thoughts.
This stew of guilt and economic depression swirls into a muddy puddle in a March storm that begins as the novel opens, an unrelenting rain that continues for exactly one week every year. Langan immerses the reader in the grayness of the cold winter rain that feels as if the skies are weeping. That depression combined with the fear Susan inspires in everyone in town makes this an atmospheric, moody novel. As disaster approaches, the questions become: who will live? Who will die? And what will Susan do?
The Keeper is Langan’s first novel, and it bears some of the marks of a freshman effort: it is too long, and Langan occasionally lets the tension slack, with too much back story and too little action, even though everything ultimately circles back and comes together at the end. Langan has such a facility with language and mood, though, that it is easy to understand why The Keeper was nominated for a Stoker Award for best first novel in 2006. Langan’s biography states she is currently studying for a doctorate in Environmental Health Science / Toxicology, an interest that allowed her to make the disaster in The Keeper believable. Between that degree and the MFA in creative writing she already holds, she is a formidable talent. My personal library already holds her other tw/o novels, The Missing and Audrey’s Door, and you can bet I’ll be tackling them sooner rather than later, especially given that they both won Stoker Awards. And I’m delighted to read that she has a new novel in the works. This is a writer you’ll want to know.
Originally published at Fantasy Literature website. 3.5 stars rounded up to 4.
"The Keeper, " in this sense--the sense of female suppression, rejection, and abuse, by the part of the male, who himself is also abused by those in power, is on the level of what "Beloved" by Toni Morrison does for African American culture, and African American female slavery in particular. It seeks to define and show us who we really are, at our core--what it means to be subject and object, both and neither, to be raped, and to be the person committing that act. It shows us how abuse, neglect, forget and regret, beget those same things over and over again. In the same way that "Beloved" disturbs our sense of comfort in a white patriarchal world, so does "The Keeper."
This particular horror story is definitely not for everyone. In fact, I would imagine most readers of horror will find this dull and put it down before they finish it. Most readers looking for a quick thrill, or a scary Freddy Krueger around every corner, or the creepy over-painted clown in the sewer, will not find this book enjoyable. Those interested in a less cerebral read will probably not finish this book, will probably write a bad review of it, and shouldn't purchase it at all. Instead they should skip on over to the Stephen King section of Amazon.com and pick up a King novel which subtly plays with our sub conscious and gives us unidentifiable monsters under our bed. Unfortunately, Langan is too skilled for that. She gives us something very defineable and shows us that the monsters in the mirrors are us--whether we are the abusive male, or the dominated female, or the forgetful female, or the regretted child, or the lost ghost...
This book, like Danielewski's "House of Leaves," is both a love story and a horror story. Like Danielewski's lost corridors within a house that's too big on the inside for what exists on the outside, Langan shows us what's on the inside of us, that's too big to actually show on the outside to the world--until all hell breaks loose. Not many horror readers enjoy it when you add love into the mix at all, and I don't believe typical horror readers will enjoy this story for that reason.
Ultimately, I suppose the only problem I saw inherent in the novel is the ability of women to forgive past transgressions--whether that woman is mother earth, her children, other women etc... It is as if the author draws from Shel Silverstein's "The Giving Tree," where a very "feminized" tree continues to give everything it can--even it's own life to a young "boy/male/patriarchy" until it dies out of love. It is here where I disagree somewhat with the author's inevitable conclusion to forgive rape of land and women and children. Some things are unforgiveable--but it is inherent to the human soul and to memory to be able to forgive in order to move forward, yet with this forgiveness, especially the ending--there is a sense also of forgetting in this novel. I don't believe one should ever forget, and so I disagree with how this ended. Ultimately though, redemption is not about vengeance--but just that, redemption and renewal. And that's what Sarah Langan has written--a novel for our own perusal and our own redemption as humans, and children of an ecological world in danger. In at least that, the novel does succeed in showing us who the real monsters are, and what we are to do with that knowledge when we have it.