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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

"The Missing" by Sarah Langan

Official Sarah Langan Website
Official Sarah Langan Blog
Order “The MissingHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE


When I was younger I used to read horror almost as prodigiously as I did fantasy. I was particularly into Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert McCammon, Anne Rice, Brian Lumley, and basically anything that had vampires in it. Nowadays, even though I’m still a fan of the genre and watch countless scary movies all the time, I don’t read horror nearly as much. I mean, I still pick up Koontz books but he’s basically just writing suspense thrillers right now; McCammon retired there for a bit and while he’s writing again, he’s also veered away from his horror roots; Anne Rice & Brian Lumley have lost their luster; Clive Barker has been busy with the YA fantasy series Abarat and other projects (but thankfully has a new horror novel on the way :); Stephen King I’ve never really been a fan of apart from The Dark Tower and The Green Mile; Peter Straub, John Saul and Bentley Little I could never get into; and I’ve been pretty bad about trying out new authors apart from Tim Lebbon, Douglas Clegg, Caitlin R. Kiernan, etc. So honestly, I’ve been craving some new horror for a while now and when Sarah Langan’sThe Missing” showed up in my mail I couldn’t wait to get started :D

A graduate in creative writing from Columbia University and currently pursuing a Master's in Environmental Health Science/Toxicology at New York University, Sarah Langan debuted last year with “The Keeper”, which was a finalist for the 2006 Bram Stoker Award (Best First Novel) and has drawn comparisons to such horror greats as Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, and Peter Straub. Normally I don’t put much stock in such accolades, but I have to say that I was pretty impressed with what was being said about Ms. Langan and I had really high hopes for her sophomore novel “The Missing” (UK version is titled “Virus”). Suffice it to say that Sarah Langan delivers, big time…

In literature, especially speculative fiction, it can be argued that it’s nearly impossible to come up with a story that is truly original anymore and “The Missing” is no exception. Just looking at the obvious, there’s the small-town Maine setting which of course recalls Stephen King, while the plot, which features a virus that spreads in apocalyptic fashion transforming normal people into flesh-eating monsters, brings to mind Resident Evil, 28 Days/Weeks Later or various other zombie-like stories. Of course there’s much more to telling a story than just originality. It’s been proven time and again that you can take something that’s been done before and make it work successfully. It’s all about presentation. Perhaps in a lesser writer’s hands a book like “The Missing” might not work so well but Sarah Langan is definitely no ordinary writer. Even though “The Missing” is only the author’s second novel, Ms. Langan exudes a confidence and flair that really comes across in her writing and elevates her book to a level that is usually reserved for more experienced novelists. Breaking it down, the prose is wonderful, Ms. Langan is quite adept at setting the mood, she’s very descriptive and very in tune with contemporary pop culture (Elimidate, Gilmore Girls, the Tick, etc). Also, Sarah Langan has a pretty wicked imagination ;) Horror can come in many forms, but it usually varies between the more psychological, atmospheric variety and the gory, shock-value type. Ms. Langan does both extremely well so whether you’re in the mood for thought-provoking, tension-building scares or disturbing scenes of graphic violence, “The Missing” has it covered.

Most impressive of all was Sarah Langan’s ability to write believable characters with believable problems. Husbands, fathers, mothers, wives, teenagers, children, brothers, sisters; Ms. Langan has it all covered in “The Missing” and does a fantastic job of developing & capturing each person’s personality and the everyday problems they’re dealing with—wife having an affair, living up to a parent’s expectations, job-related stress, being different from other kids, peer pressure, sexual urges, etc. The time spent in establishing all of the characters are then put to good use when the author uses the virus to feed on each individual’s fears, regrets or hatred and leads them on a downward spiral toward madness, death or something much worse. In fact, some of the best moments in the book were seeing how Fenstad, Meg, Lois, Danny, Lila, etc. dealt with their increasingly dire situations and in what terrifying ways they were changed. All I can say is that’s it’s definitely not pretty…

My biggest, and really, only pet peeve with the book is that I had the sense that I was missing something – no pun intended – especially regarding the origins of the virus, which was never really explained. So after finishing “The Missing”, I dug around a little and discovered that the book was actually a sequel to Ms. Langan’s debut novel “The Keeper”. Why the publisher failed to mention this little tidbit on the cover of “The Missing” I’m not sure, but I did read somewhere that the book is a loose sequel and that both it and “The Keeper” are considered standalones. Regardless, it should have been mentioned somewhere on the book so a completist like myself could have the option of reading “The Keeper” first or not. If Ms. Langan does decide to write another follow-up which is a possibility considering the way the “The Missing” ended – a tiny ray of hope in an otherwise bleak future – then I hope this oversight is corrected. For those interested by the way, Ms. Langan is currently at work on a collection of short fiction and her third novel “Audrey's Door” which is supposedly a “much more intimate, nuanced story than my previous novels.”

Anyways, aside from the sequel business, there’s not much to complain about in “The Missing”. Sure, I mentioned the originality factor earlier, but it’s not really an issue since the plot is more character-driven and Ms. Langan does a really good job of imbuing the material with her own unique flourishes. As far as comparisons to other horror authors, they’re pretty much unavoidable and not without merit. After all, I definitely see some Stephen King and Peter Straub influences in the writing and parts of the book also reminded me of early Dean Koontz & Robert McCammon. In fact, I would go so far to say that Sarah Langan is an old-skool stylist—I’m thinking 70s/80s horror—crossed with new skool sensibilities. In short, “The Missing” is nightmarishly good, Sarah Langan is definitely the real deal, and my love for horror literature has been rekindled in a big way!

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

this was a fun review to read, really well-written. i'm a big fan of the keeper, so i'll definitely give this one a try. she's also doing a contest on her website right now, so you might want to add that url: www.myspace.com/themissingcontest www.myspace.com/themissingcontest

Robert said...

I'm glad you liked the review :D Thanks for the heads up on the contest. I'll be sure to add a link...

Anonymous said...

yeah, it was great. also want to add that someone just made a trailer for the book (that's the contest) there so you should check it out and let us know if its accurate.

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