On Gothic fiction: The Brits, being the master novelists that they are, created this genre of literature in the 18th C. Unless I’m mistaken, Horace Walpole was the first author to pen a work of Gothic fiction in his Castle of Otranto. Walpole set the standard, in any case: a setting that is alive with darkness and mystery, where the supernatural looms largely–and, yes, I do mean largely. There is no mistaking the supernatural in Walpole’s work.
His Castle was followed by many works of Gothic fiction, in which authors competed to create the scariest, darkest, or most bizarre works of fiction. This was a breathing time for the Brits, in which they could forget for just a moment how the enlightenment had dampened them, and live again in a world where mysticism and the supernatural could exist–generally in fantastical Catholic realms, otherwise known to them as Mediterranean countries.
Then along came the more feminine Gothic. Writers such as Ann Radcliffe used the same motifs of darkness and evil, of crypts and ghostly encounters in Mediterranean countries, except with one vital difference–these authors relegated the supernatural to the unbelievable. Their enlightenment thinking got the best of them; natural forces explained all hints of the supernatural. Morality and even, perhaps, underlying feminism took hold of their texts.
On the modern Gothic: I read Mike Duran’s book The Resurrection a couple of weeks ago. I must admit that I was prepared to enjoy it because I’ve enjoyed Mike’s blog for about a year now. He’s smart. He doesn’t shy away from controversy. And I knew he would soon debut a work of supernatural fiction, which to me is just another name for Gothic literature, one of my pet subjects (plus, if you must know, I also write supernatural fiction). Then he wrote a truthful but discouraging article disparaging reviewers that hand out five-star ratings like candy. I felt trapped. I wanted to review his book; in fact, I had to because I had won a copy off his blog. How could I give it a good review after that? Honesty is one thing–but how does he know one way or the other whether I’m honest? Suddenly, I found myself in the damned if you do, damned if you don’t arena of book reviewing.
I’m not a particularly nice person, all in all. I’m a critic at heart, but I know when it’s good for me to shut my mouth. I’ve learned this after many hard lessons. So instead of reviewing Mike’s book here on my blog (I had already given it a 5-star review on Amazon), I turned my attentions elsewhere. I picked up another–secular–book of Gothic fiction, Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry. The beauty of the language captured me. I was utterly, soulfully lured into a London ghost story with the classical style of writing that I crave. I fell for it–until the end, in which I discovered that it wasn’t a classical novel after all. It was, in fact, a modern novel in which nobody wins–not the good, not the evil. It just ends. The supernatural is rendered into impotent god-like ghost figures who can’t save themselves, let alone anyone else. Her story, ultimately, was thoroughly unbelievable. I sank under a weight of depression and returned to The Resurrection, which still sat on my bedside table awaiting review. I knew at that point the reason I had given Mike’s book a 5-star rating.
Finally, the novel I’m meant to review: The Resurrection blends the Walpole aesthetic of the supernatural with the feminine Gothic, except with the modern American twist, in which the supernatural exists in the Protestant world of the here and now. His book is a modern adaptation that utilizes every facet of the genre: his setting is dark and mysterious, his heroine broken–a crippled kind of Jane Eyre, and his supernatural is larger than life. And maybe it’s just me, but I found the romance between the heroine and her construction-worker husband extremely sexy. I’m not much into eye-probing and rakish stares; I’ve been married for 17 and 1/2 years to my own fire-fighter type of heroic man, and that’s the best kind of romance there is–one of devotion between a husband and wife.
Mike Duran’s writing style is more matter-of-fact than poetic, but it works. It’s believable. His ghost story is creepy, cold, and left me jittery–and, yet, I believed in it. Add to that a satisfying ending, in which the supernatural guides the main characters to fight their battles and actually prevail against darkness, and the story is complete.
I have a few criticisms of the novel, and since the author wants them, I’ll deliver:
*The beginning is abrupt. It lets the reader in on the story right away, which is a plus in today’s publishing world, I suspect. One of the main protagonists, Ian Clark, witnesses the ghost who haunts him. The other main protagonist, the crippled heroine I already mentioned, experiences her first vision. But these scenes were terribly rushed and left me a little breathless because I felt pulled along by a plethora of overly active verbs. The writing calms down after that, and I don’t mean that it slows down. It calms down.
*I’m not a big fan of scenic fiction, I have to admit, but I also realize that today’s readers wants their fiction to mimic the art of cinema, and so be it. I don’t like it, but I’ll deal with it. Mike’s novel is no different than any other modern scenic fiction. His writing is more intelligent than most, and for that, I give him kudos. In today’s world, calling a work scenic is not criticism.
*The author doesn’t want to traverse the path of fear very far. This may be an honest criticism depending on what the reader expects from the story. Personally, I don’t want to have nightmares. To me, the author goes just far enough, such that the supernatural is tangible, but not horrifying.
*The worst part of the novel, for me, is the afterword. Yes, I realize, it’s not technically part of the plot. Apologetics have a long and illustrious history in Christian writing, but I don’t want to read them after I’ve finishing a novel that gives me satisfaction in and of itself. Plus, I have more disagreements with the theology in the afterward than I do with the theology in the novel. I can almost guarantee that wasn’t the author’s intent.
My rating stated boldly: I give this book five stars, and not simply because I want to bolster the genre. Go ahead and argue with me, if you want, Mr. Duran. And don’t worry. I’m expecting an even better second book. I love the supernatural genre, otherwise known as the Gothic, and I can’t get enough of it. Keep delivering it, already!