I had started a series on archetypes some time ago, but with my attention shifting every hour or so lately, I never finished it. However, I finished a book last night that had my spot-that-archetype adrenaline going. The book is called Dead Vault, and its author is Daniel Eness. Eness is a somewhat obscure author, who does no marketing, but publishes book after book after book. I find this a curious work pattern and wonder how it’s working out for him. While I could have simply asked him, my curiosity couldn’t be sated without actually reading one of his books. Being forthright is, apparently, for outside-the-computer people, and not internet identities. In Dead Vault, the protagonist, Arc, makes light of his carefully constructed obscurity–although I’m not interested in connecting this character with the author, it seems the author, too, has a carefully-constructed obscurity. Don’t worry; my blog will hardly be the place where the obscurity is broken. I opted to purchase Dead Vault because it’s a recent publication. I didn’t bother with the description, just clicked to buy and opened on the Kindle.
What I read turned out to be the kind of horror/gothic novel that other, less obscure authors are attempting to write and not quite reaching. Eness’s archetypes are spot on, from the wise old woman, to the dead “divine child”, to the ambiguous shadow character. Of course, there’s an anima, as well, and she’s perfectly done. She’s a young woman from Iceland with an elfin appearance. She doesn’t play the hero, rescuing Arc from his shadow. Rather, she’s helpful and encouraging, allowing Arc to solve his own problems. In this case, the problem is an elderly woman, a teacher Arc deeply reveres from childhood, who has gone missing. Yes, although I discuss archetypes in books, I don’t mean to imply a lack of plot. But the plot takes the character on a psychological journey as well as a physical journey. For example, when Arc must go underground (there is, in fact, a vault), he enters one layer of subterranean territory, and then delves to a lower level. In one, he discovers the dead child; in a deeper level, he meets the wise old woman (I’m intentionally being vague to avoid spoilers). When he returns to the aboveground world, he goes through two “birthing” processes, in which he must crawl out of tight spaces.
This book works because the author is smart. He holds back from explaining the evil. He allows for ambiguity. In short, the author is an artist, and authors of the gothic must rise to that level. Otherwise, the evil becomes banal–usually explained away as a schizophrenic, misunderstood criminal who was traumatized in childhood. Eness’s restraint is exemplary and the book, therefore, has the desired emotional impact, as well as necessary believability. As for emotional impact, in one of the “birthing” scenes, Arc is wedged very tightly in a cave. As a spelunker in my youth, this scene physically recalled old claustrophobic fears and made my toes curls. On a psychological level, though, it made me panic, even brought tears to my eyes. Sometimes, I feel trapped, as if I can’t transition into a new life phase, as if I can’t free myself from the tight space where I’m currently wedged.
If I had to rate this short book by level of connection, I would give it five stars. Nevertheless, it suffers from a lack of overall editing, and for that I would give it three stars. Aside from the typos, there are a number of awkward phrases. An epilogue is a good way to wrap up some of the details, but, in this case, it needs to be shorter. The emotional impact is greatest at the natural end, and drawing it out too long destroys this. What any author of deeper fiction wants is the reader to feel immobilized by his work, at least for a few moments. This book almost had me at that level, until the epilogue destroyed it. Blend the good with the bad, and I give this book four stars.