Terminal (Book)

Written by Brian Keene

Published by Bantam

Brian Keene made a name for himself among us horror fans with his zombie novel, The Rising, and his timing couldn’t have been better. It got his name on the minds of horror fans, and now with its sequel, City of the Dead, hitting bookshelves in June, the attention will be turned back to him soon. So allow me to take this opportunity to tell you something very simple: Terminal is an amazing novel. I hope his popularity with readers is enough to convince them to check out this decidedly non-horror entry into his canon because if they pass it up just based on the lack of undead creatures, they’re going to be missing one of the most heart-wrenching stories I’ve had the pleasure to almost cry over in years.

Yeah, I said almost cry, so what of it? If the writing is good, the characters strong, and the emotions real, I’m able to put myself right there with the protagonist; and it’s hard to control your emotions when that happens. The only other author that’s been able to illicit that kind of reaction from me in recent memory is Stephen King with the Dark Tower series. If you’ve read it, you know.

Terminal begins with Tommy O’Brien, whose first-person perspective will take us through the entire tale, being told he has cancer. At a very advanced stage. And it’s growing. The doctor tells him he has one month, three at the absolute most, to live, and there is nothing they can do to try and remove the cancer without severely disfiguring him, and even then it would only prolong the inevitable.

At 25, you don’t expect to hear news like that. Especially when you’ve got a wife and child that you love more than life itself, and things just get worse when he and his fellow co-workers are laid off, losing pretty much the only decent job in the area. It was far from the perfect career but it paid the bills, albeit just barely, but now that he knows he’s going to be gone soon, he realizes he has to do something to make sure they’re taken care of after.

He decides the only way to make sure his wife and child won’t have to suffer money issues along with their grief is to rob a bank. Over drinks one night he tells his two best friends, slow witted but good-hearted John and rampant womanizer Shem, about his plan and his disease. They both insist they have to help, John because they’ve known each other since they were kids, Shem because, basically, he’s bored with life in their shitty little town. They make the plan.

Of course, things don’t go well at all once they enact said plan, not only because none of them have any experience robbing a bank (or do they?), but also because it’s a bad idea to begin with. People die, other people’s true nature comes forth, and Tommy meets an extraordinary young boy whose very touch can heal. Tommy is shown that miracles can and do happen to even the most ordinary people, but sometimes their timing is just all wrong.

The reason Terminal works so well is Keene’s innate ability to bring his characters to life, a skill that is the very cornerstone to all good literature. After the first 20 or so pages, you feel like you know Tommy O’Brien as well as anyone else in your life, from the love he has for the only good things in his life (his wife and child), to his reaction to being told that soon he’s going to lose it all because of, what he thinks, is a very non-existent God. You really feel for the characters from the get-go, which only makes it that much worse when things go to shit. And boy, do they ever.

It’s a great accomplishment, I believe, to really be able to tell a story the reader can believe in, something that sits with them long after they finish reading it. It’s a skill not many writers have, either because they’re too focused on getting the story over with, or they’re not clear enough on what kind of story they want to tell. Keene suffers from neither of these issues in Terminal as he lets the tale unfold at its own pace, and he’s got a crisp, vivid idea of what the tale is about at its core.

Terminal is a great book, plain and simple, and I hope it’s enough to stretch his appeal outside of the typical horror circles and closer to the general public, because if this book is any indication, he’s got a lot of interesting things to say.

4 1/2 out of 5

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