Monday, March 23, 2015

Review: "Hold the Dark" by William Giraldi

It has been a long while since I have come across a novel that is so brutal and so downbeat that it affects my mood for days after finishing it, but William Giraldi’s sophomore novel Hold the Dark does just that in the most beautiful and eloquent ways possible in a brisk 200 pages. The way Giraldi writes about modern Alaska is the same way Woodrell writes about the Ozarks and how last year, Smith Henderson wrote about the Pacific Northwest in his brilliant debut novel Fourth of July Creek. Giraldi’s Alaska is very much like those places: desolate, far from any form of civilization or things like mercy, justice or redemption. It is a place where anything can happen and where the modern and brutally realistic mixes fluently with the ancient and mystical. There are scenes of graphic violence that are juxtaposed with breathtaking descriptions of the untouched portions of Alaskan wilderness. It is as much a character as any of the few very memorable characters that find themselves at odds with it or whatever wants to end them at any moment. This short novel is also an intense thriller, involving lots of murder and tension that will have even the hardest reader sweating, not fully comfortable in their daily life until they find out what happens, or see what kind of crazy things Giraldi has up his sleeves, because I can guarantee you it is something you will never expect, and it is always for the better here. It begins with a series of wolf attacks in a small town called Keelut. Packs of wolves are abducting children, leaving little trace that they are alive. The third victim is Bailey Slone, taken right off of his front porch, or at least that is what his mother Medora tells Russell Core in a letter he writes to him. Core is a grizzled failed nature writer estranged from his family, but since he once wrote about killing a wolf, something he thinks haunts him to this day, Medora wants him to help track down the wolves that took her son and kill them. When he gets there, Medora’s strange behavior quickly leads Core to realize that something is dreadfully wrong about Medora’s story, and, in a harrowing scene, he discovers the strangled body of Bailey hidden in her boiler soon after Medora disappears into the woods. To say things are complicated when Medora’s husband Vernon comes home from war is a deadly mistake. Already a violent man by nature and hardened even more by the horrors of combat, Vernon hears the news of his son’s death and, along with his equally violent lifelong friend Cheeon, seeks bloody vengeance against his wife, killing everyone they come across in the most gruesome ways possible. There are many intense scenes in this book I won’t soon forget, from a shootout that graphically describes the damage done by an assault rifles, to a upward shot gun blast to the chest with horrifying results, but besides the violence, the unexpected is what really makes this book shine, with deaths happening quickly enough for them to not be seen coming and an ending that drastically subverts a tacked on happy ending, finishing instead with a bleak notion of the darkness inside all of us. Despite the gore, this is quite a moving and beautiful book about human nature that will stick with you for a long time

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