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Rating: 4 of 5 stars
A chilling and masterfully crafted teen horror novel guaranteed to keep the pages turning, the mind reeling, and the lamp on any reader’s bedside table on long after midnight.
Privileged and popular Caleb Mason is celebrating his high school graduation when he receives a mysterious, disturbing letter from his long-lost childhood playmate, Christine. Caleb and his jokester friend Bean decide to travel to his tiny hometown of Hudsonville, Florida, to find her. Upon arrival, they discover the town has taken a horrifying turn for the worse. Caleb’s childhood home is abandoned and his father has disappeared. Children are going missing. The old insane asylum has reopened, and Christine is locked inside. Her mother, a witch, is consumed with madness, and Christine’s long-dead twin sister whispers clues to Caleb through the static of an a.m. radio. The terrifying prophesies of the spirits are coming to pass. Sixteen clocks are ticking; sixty-six murdered souls will bring about the end of the world. As Caleb peels back layer after layer of mystery, he uncovers a truth more horrible than anything he had imagined, a truth that could only be uttered by the lips of the dead.
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the morn. From the deep and darkest water great Lucifer is born. When six and sixty souls are dead he’ll blow his mighty horn. And hell is marching on.
The minute I read the first line–Something in the ruins waits.–I knew I enfolding myself in a real thing to behold. I didn’t anticipate that I’d enjoy the flourish and timing as much as I did, but the literary aspect of Gates’ writing fucking floored me. Here’s a man who knows how to build a story, and take his time doing it, not just tell a story. He constructs corners that the reader wouldn’t even think of otherwise. I seriously appreciated it. (Though he could’ve reined it in a little with the head-hopping. Just a little.)
And the characters! Caleb is my favorite thing, like, ever. He and Christine together remind me a lot of how I feel about Cas and Anna from Anna Dressed in Blood in the way that, even though you know they can’t really do too much good together, and everything seems destined to yank them apart, I still feel it deep in my bones that they need to be with one another or I’ll just fall apart somehow.
Guess I got a little attached.
But I can’t help it. The horrors these kids suffer, and the conspiracy they’re steeped in–betrayed to–wrenches at me with even the thought. “Sixteen clocks are ticking; sixty-six murdered souls will bring about the end of the world.” The premise of an impending doomsday coupled with the privileged outsider poking around in a small-town mystery didn’t promise near as much as it delivered with its imagination, population, execution and resolution.
The writing was almost definitely my favorite part of the book, so, I provide, the genius:
“[…] I’m going to go flirt with your mom and see if I can make Bob jealous. Wanna come?”
“Yeah,” Caleb says, “right after I get some of this bomb-ass cake.
Massively girthed live oak trees line the sides of the drive like huge, ancient sentries. Their arms reach out over the rutted dirt path, interlocking, forming a thick canopy above. It’s like passing through a tunnel, except this tunnel is alive. Tendrils of wispy Spanish moss hang from the gnarled branches above, floating above their passing car like a host of drifting ghosts. The air is very still all around. Bean wants to say something, but when he breathes in, it doesn’t feel like there’s enough air to fuel his words, so he closes his mouth again. There’s something creepy about the trees. Like they’re watching.
Caleb does want to go back. And not even just back to his dad’s house, but back to Malibu. back home, to surf and go for runs on the beach every morning, to get ready for college, read some good books, to meet Amber at a hotel in Santa Barbara and screw her and bask in the secret thought that he doesn’t really care about her anyway. To do some writing, maybe even finally get something in the LA Times. These are all things that Caleb understands. Here, he understands nothing.
No one knows what real darkness is until they experience it. This isn’t like a moonless night or a room with the door shut and all the lights out. In real life, there’s always some kind of light—a crack in the curtain, a distant streetlight, even one solitary star. This isn’t real life. But this is real darkness. It vibrates. It chases itself in circles. It wraps itself around you like a python. It lives.
Kneeling in a field of stars, this might be the night the world was made. Crickets chirp, the night breeze rustles leaves overhead, and all else holds its breath. In the dark, two childhood friends embrace. This might be Adam and Eve in the Garden. This might be the beginning of the world instead of the end of it.
They help each other off the dew-soaked ground. The Spanish moss hanging from ancient, dying oak trees, the strangling kudzu, the serpentine tendrils of mist creeping from the forest all around them: everything is a shroud. Hiding the truth. Hiding the future. Hiding any chance they might have had at a pleasant life full of denial and the appearance of happiness, a normal life. Now, even if they perform a miracle and somehow make it out of this ghost town alive, they’ll be forever haunted.
Yeah, I was a little spooked at night a time or two while reading The Sleepwalkers. And that’s hard to do.