Brian Keene’s Dark Hollow

I read for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is to learn how other writers work their magic. But if I were to divorce the writer part of me from the reader part of me—something I could never completely do in a non-hypothetical world—I’d say that there are three things I want from a story:

It should make me think.

It should make me feel.

It should entertain me.

The above demands aren’t necessarily listed in order, nor are they isolated circles on a Venn diagram. No, they’d overlap and crash into each another and enhance one another and all that crap, but for now, let’s separate them for the sake of Keene’s novel. And if you somehow jumped into this post without reading the title, we’re talking about Brian Keene’s Dark Hollow today (sometimes called The Rutting Season).

Despite being the only living horror writer who has never met or corresponded with Brian Keene, I’m becoming a huge fan of his. Most folks have been reading him for a decade or so, but I only got into his stuff in the past couple of years. I realize I’m late to the party, but that’s alright by me—I’ve always been a late bloomer. So why do I like him?

One word: hoodies.

Okay, so his proclivity for eighties heavy metal aside, let me share a few other reasons. To begin with, he’s an incredible writer. Secondly, he works as hard as anyone to do right by his fans. A third reason is that he says stuff like this. And if all that isn’t enough, did I mention that he sometimes hangs out at my favorite horror forum?

So let’s talk a little about Dark Hollow, keeping in mind the three things I want from the books I read.

It should make me think: If you’ve ever read Keene, you know he pulls off the delicate balancing act of respecting those authors who have come before him without ever aping them. That’s quite a feat. In Dark Hollow it becomes apparent very early on (as early as the opening epigraph) that Keene knows he’s treading where guys like Arthur Machen, M.R. James, and Algernon Blackwood once dwelt. The antagonist of the book is unique to Keene, but when Hylinus rears his terrifying head and the woods begin to do funny things, you can’t help but remember Machen’s “The Great God Pan” or Blackwood’s “The Willows.” But because Keene’s work is so original, the memory of those other authors never distracts or diminishes the spell Keene casts. To the contrary, the largely subconscious recall of those authors and those works makes what happens in the forest even scarier than it already is.

Conceptual film art from Paul Campion, by way of briankeene.com

Further, Dark Hollow does what every great horror novel should do—it makes you think about what you would do if you were placed in the protagonist’s situation. Adam Senft, Keene’s author hero, goes through hell in the book, and because Keene takes us from sympathy to empathy to identification with Senft, we can’t help but view events through his eyes and wonder just what the heck we would do if we too were faced with the horrible and the inexplicable.

Speaking of Adam Senft…

Pat Robertson's Book of the Month, July 2006

It should make me feel: Let me ask you…have you ever gone through something terrible? Have you ever watched one of your dearest loved ones experience a personal hell and felt those anguished flames consume you too? Have you ever felt incapable of performing some daunting task or felt helpless in the face of some problem? Ever been betrayed by a loved one or seen someone you love do something that was totally alien to his or her personality? And what about dogs? You like them? If so, just how much? What would you risk to keep your best canine friend alive?

The above questions only scratch the surface of the emotional turmoil that churns in Dark Hollow. I defy you to read this book and not see someone you love in Adam’s wife Tara. I defy you to remain unmoved by the anguish she and Adam are enduring. I defy you to not gasp in terror as Adam’s dog Big Steve falls into harm’s way.

How ’bout Adam’s buddies? Cliff, Dale, and Merle are so well-drawn and so likeable that you’ll be thinking back to the friends you had in your hometown (unless they were jerks). Or, if you’re lucky, they’ll make you appreciate the friends you still have. And that’s not to say the supporting cast is generic—it’s anything but. Each character is distinct without trying too hard to be. Keene doesn’t give one guy a Swedish accent and another some weird facial tic. He makes each one a living, breathing person, and that attention to detail pays off big-time in the book’s waning chapters.

More concept art from the film version of Dark Hollow

It should entertain me: If you’ve come this far, you already know how much I love this book. I don’t love it just because Keene stimulates my intellect and my heart—though he stirs both of those things. I don’t love it because I can see, even from my relative newcomer’s vantage-point, that he’s constructing (or adding to) his own incredible mythos.

I love it because it thrills me.

Dark Hollow includes a blasphemous book that would make Lovecraft shudder, an episode in an abandoned house that could trade punches with Jake Chambers’s spine-tingling battle with the monstrous house in Stephen King’s The Drawing of the Three, sensory details that make the room around me disappear until I’m standing terrified in LeHorn’s Hollow, and a climax that makes good on the promise of all that came before.

So there you have it. Dark Hollow is a great read. If you’ve never read it, you should. Then you’ll know why everyone who loves horror is thankful we have Brian Keene.

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8 thoughts on “Brian Keene’s Dark Hollow

  1. R. Thomas, I’m glad to hear you enjoyed Dark Hollow, too. However, I’m a little mad at you because you’ve just made my reading list swell even larger! 🙂 Terminal sounds great though. I think I’ll read it after Ghoul and City of the Dead.

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  2. I’m a friend but also a fan of Brian’s. I’ve read pretty much everything he has written and I agree that Dark Hollow is one of his very best. It really creeped me out and it was unlike anything I’d ever read. Years later I still think about the ending.

    Cheers,

    Gord

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  3. Gord, I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it, too. I agree with your thought about the ending. It really does stick with the reader.

    And just in case you read this, let me also say that I enjoyed The Jigsaw Man immensely. It’ll probably be one of my blog posts one of these days.

    Have a good one!

    Jonathan

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  4. Great stuff, Jonathan. Glad you liked Jigsaw Man. I’m sure you heard but it I’ve sold the film rights to that book as well, and the script is being written as we speak by William Miller, the same writer who scripted Brian Keene’s GHOUL movie. It will be exciting to see how it all turns out!

    Best of luck with THE SORROWS.

    Cheers!

    Gord

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    1. Holy cow, Gord–I had no idea Jigsaw Man was getting the big-screen treatment. Congratulations! That’s a well-deserved honor! And given what I’ve heard about Keene’s GHOUL, the film version of Jigsaw should turn out wonderfully!

      To quote Syndrome, I’m really geeking out about this. 🙂

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