FINISHED (old part of review below): It turns into a more conventional band-of-heroes-wander-toward-climax plot in its last 100 pages, but remains a pure jolt of good old heebie-jeebie horror. And the first half of the book attains a wondrous mash-up of old Stephen King, brutal Clive Barker, and early David Cronenberg, eerie, visceral, carnal, unsettling. Recommended.
I'm half-done, and I'd normally wait on a review, but the thread following a review of King's latest novel _Duma Key_ got me thinking about horror and why this novel is so very much better than that one.
Williams revs up with the kind of multi-character, grandly-mythologized, apocalypto that King (and Straub, and Simmons) used to do so well. But the horrors here remain tantalizingly vague as often as they are explicitly vicious, almost recognizable images and conventions but viewed through a surreal fog--until you recoil from a bit of ultravee that bursts through that fog. I'm finding myself recalling Clive Barker's great Books of Blood, a slew of stories that made me uncomfortable, teetered between repulsive and alluring. Or maybe King's earliest collection, Night Shift? I remember a story, whose central image was on the cover of my paperback, a man suddenly erupting in eyes all over his hands. Williams--like Barker, like some of that work by King--is keenly disturbing and unsettling....and you're never quite sure why.
And that's what I crave when I dig into the genre, that bad-dream mojo. King has become a grand(iose) explainer, endlessly describing and explicating what's going on. But he worked best for this reader when I wasn't at all sure what sense to make--or rather that the "sense" being made was rigorous and clear, but I'd never get my head around it. Or, better yet, that what was being revealed was a logic underlying the world that was terrifying. (No surprise that I picked up King and horror just before my adolescence, and right about the time my relationship to my faith was imploding.)
The familiar re-seen with nightmare eyes. Joe Hill has those eyes, and a lot of Glen Hirshberg. Williams' vision is getting under my skin. (Easy review potshot: King's latest just got on my nerves.)