Award-winning Canadian author Kenneth J. Harvey makes his American debut with style and impact with this novel about a small fishing town and the creeping dread that threatens it.
The plot of The Town That Forgot How to Breathe is complex but not so much as to alienate readers. It begins on a Thursday with a doddering old woman who seems more in tune with the supernatural than most others. She meets a pair of newcomers, a man freshly separated from his wife and his daughter, who have come to Bareneed to vacation and spend some much needed time together. What happens in the town, however, makes certain that Bareneed will never make it onto the best vacation spots list. People are dying of a curious malady. After a period of marked anger and despondency, they simply stop breathing. In fact, it’s as if they’ve forgotten how to breathe. The old woman knows something’s coming from the sea, secrets kept and horrors hidden, that will judge the town and its people.
First and foremost this is a ghost story. However, far from tired and trite expressions of the recently deceased, Harvey has managed to come up with something fresh and original. Lying beneath the strange deaths and behaviors, bodies tethered to the bottom of the bay, and the strange appearance of creatures of the sea that should not exist, something lurks in the bay outside the town of Bareneed. Something old and patient, something that has waited for many years for a reckoning.
Harvey’s strengths in this book come in several forms. First, his characters are top-shelf. With each quirky and colorful personality the reader meets, he is drawn further into the town’s tradition of folklore and superstition. In addition, the “normal” characters all suffer from normal maladies, from anxiety to job-burn-out, and come across as real people instead of characters in a book. It’s a difficult task to create so many characters about which the readers will care, but Harvey makes it look easy.
Plot and pacing also work well. Harvey begins with cold water and slowly raises the temperature to a rolling boil. The increase is so gradual and easy that the reader may be taken by surprise, finding himself unable to stop reading. Eerily reminiscent of Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” The Town That Forgot How to Breathe takes the feeling of creeping dread to new levels.
Without a doubt Kenneth J. Harvey is a most welcome Canadian import into American literature. His voice and vision are unique and strong, and it’s just the breath of fresh air needed in horror fiction today.
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