My rating: 3 of 5 stars
There is much to be said for Michael Rowe’s novel, Enter, Night. It is a refreshingly traditional vampire story. No eco-friendly, glittering, James Dean vampires here. Rowe harks back to Bram Stoker’s original vampire incarnation, which in turn borrowed heavily from ancient legends.
Overall, the novel clips along with aggressively spare and gritty prose. No poetic metaphors here. Every word, every scene, every character is crafted to make you take notice.
And therein, for me, lies part of the problem.
The novel opens with an introduction to a vampire through the point of view of a bus driver. The vampire is nameless. That first chapter then abruptly shifts point of view to the vampire. Nothing wrong with choosing an omniscient point of view, in general.
Our interest in the following chapter is invested in a runaway adolescent male who makes a desperate journey back to an abusive household to save his mother. We are rather heavily invested in his story when three chapters later he’s dead.
By chapter five we’re introduced to yet another cast of characters, in this case Christina (grieving wife), Morgan (grieving daughter) and Jeremy (grieving brother). For the most part the novel remains about their journey, and retains a fairly tight and consistent point of view. Their stories are heart-breaking, particularly Jeremy’s, and if for no other reason the novel is worth time because of this clear, incisive narrative.
Throughout the following chapters, Rowe deftly tells the story of a vampiric relationship of another sort, that of a soul-sucking matriarch in a Northern Ontario mining town and the three people (Christina, Morgan and Jeremy) who are forced to throw themselves upon her non-existent compassion and agenda-packed charity.
What follows, vampires aside, is a truly insightful, raw tale that takes centre stage (part Oedipal, part Brokeback Mountain), a taut counterpoint to the subtext of the secondary story that’s introduced in the town of Parr’s Landing, that of Billy Lightning who is searching for his father’s murderer, none other than the vampire from the introduction, Richard Weal.
Lightning’s story is another very human, tragic tale, one that revolves around the horrors of Northern Ontario residential schools, and backwoods bigotry.
Together these two tales intertwine to create a psychological thriller that is extremely poignant.
However, by the time we reach the denouement, the mayhem, gore and death become somewhat predictable. We know that cop should not go down to the dark, dank basement. We know that boy should not go out and look for his dog. We know all these caveats from hundreds of horror novels and movies that have filled modern minds for decades, so that after several chapters of this character being killed off, and that character smearing all over the landscape, it seems the catastrophe is never going to end. And when it does end, there are of course only two survivors (well at least it wasn’t just one).
But the story doesn’t end there. Instead, Rowe introduces us at the very end of his novel to the historical back-story of the evil that dogged the town of Parr’s Landing, that of the doomed Jesuit settlement of St. Bathélemy. By now, we know exactly what this story is and how it’s going to end, because history repeated itself in the first part of the novel. And it is here that I felt Rowe made his most fatal artistic mistake.
Instead of tacking the historical back-story on to the ending like an afterthought, I couldn’t help but feel the suspense, the tension and interest of the novel could only have been heightened had Rowe woven this historical narrative throughout the modern story. By doing so, he would have eliminated the feeling of an enormous information dump at the end, and he would have given historical context to the entire narrative.
Overall, a good read. But, for me, not a great one.