Written by Brian Keene
Published by Necessary Evil Press
I am really hard to please when it comes to horror fiction. A story can be well written and interesting and still not break the barrier of my “wow” level of appreciation. I blame this mostly on the fact that as a very young girl I was introduced to horror by three very adept guides: Poe, Lovecraft, and King. My holy trinity. And few others have come even close to reaching the level I have reserved for them. Especially the contemporary writers.
Well, I think I may have to clear off a little space on that shelf if this novella is any indication. Now, I’ll qualify by saying I haven’t read any of his other work… but with Take the Long Way Home, Keene has assured that that will not remain the case for long.
Take the Long Way Home begins with a bang, literally. Steve Lieberman and his buddies Craig, Hector, and Charlie are heading home from work — carpooling in these days of elevated gas prices — when there’s some sort of blast that sounds like a trumpet, and they get in a car wreck. Narrowly escaping death, Steve awakens from the accident to discover Hector dead and Craig missing. He and Charlie are mostly unharmed and decide to look for their friend. But it quickly becomes clear that there’s a lot more going on. Their accident wasn’t the only one on the road. In fact, the whole freeway is a tangle of disasters. Many people can’t seem to find their friends and loved ones. And no one seems to be coming to their aid.
There’s very definitely something horribly wrong with the whole world. Steve’s top priority becomes getting home to his wife, Terri. Charlie and Frank, a portly but friendly construction worker, decide to tag along. The three men begin a trek from Maryland just over the border into Pennsylvania. Along the way they encounter a number of horrors and one very interesting character, a Black man named Gabriel. How Steve gets home and what he discovers once he gets there, and along the way, are what makes this story great.
From the very first words we are thrown into a chaotic world where terror is as close as the person next to you. This is the kind of horror I love. There are no slimy slugs or zombies or blood-sucking beasties in this book. You will not find a one. But there are plenty of monsters. The characters, all of them from the most important to the smallest of tertiary characters with only two lines, leap off the page. They’re that accessible.
The writing is SO tight. It moves along at such a clip that I couldn’t put it down. I wanted to know what was going to happen next, and then next, and then next…up until the very last word. There’s a strong religious element that I was worried at first would interfere with my enjoyment (since it’s not my religion), but that wasn’t the case at all. Since the ideas presented were new to me, it only heightened my interest.
Keene drops you right in the center of an apocalyptic event, hooks you to the characters, and drags you along on a terrible and emotional journey. It reminded me, in a lot of ways, of another horror fiction book released this year by one of the masters. The tone and landscape were reminiscent of Stephen King’s Cell. Except…well, I think I might have liked this better. (That was really hard to admit!) There’s a lot here in Take the Long Way Home that tastes like a younger, leaner, meaner King. A Bachman-like King. Which, I assure you, coming from me is high praise.
Take the Long Way Home is a dark tale of struggle and an epic journey, of love, life, religion, friendship, and humanity. It is all the things that horror should be. It hits you on a mental and emotional level, appealing to both the head and the heart…and chilling both of them just as deeply. Tell the masters to start dusting off a seat, because Keene is definitely one of horror’s strongest voices.
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