Alone by Brian Keene

When it comes to Keene’s fiction, it’s usually hit or miss with me. I’m not a rabid fan, nor am I a hater, and the man has some serious chops, that much we all know. It’s not often that I don’t like a piece of the man’s writing, mainly ’cause he’s got the genre in the palm of his hand, but when his fiction is a “miss” in my eyes, it’s usually his shorter fare. This, thankfully, isĀ not the case with Alone. Well, that’s not true. I didn’t dig the ending so much, but the first two acts of the novella are borderline brilliant.

Insomuch as Keene’s signature voice is very strong in this tale, he’s coming from a place of loneliness and despair, hinting at the fact that the man knows what it is to go through some serious pain. It also just so happens that I read this book during a very tough period of my life (which I’m still not even halfway through), and so it hit home in so many different ways. Loss, desperation, separation, and the overwhelming sense of being alone… sigh… such is life. And Keene does a great job of taking a story and embedding the emotions right into your heart, giving you no choice but to feel what the main character is feeling – even if you’ve work oh so damned hard to stomp that shit down into a corner of your soul.

Thanks for dredging this stuff up, Dr. Keene. I hope someone has a couch appointment available for me soon…

When Daniel Miller wakes up one morning, something has gone terribly wrong. The power is out. The phones are dead. The house is silent. The street is shrouded in fog. Both his partner and their adopted daughter are missing. So are their neighbors. And so is everyone else in the world. Daniel Miller is the last person left on Earth… or is he?

So, in the midst of a separation and a brutal case of the blues, I ventured forth and started reading a story titled “Alone“. Smooth move, Poindexter. And no doubt, it had to be written by one of the kings of lonely, beaten down characters, Brian “more metal than your mom” Keene. Seriously, what was I thinking? I’ve read his work before. I knew what I was getting into.

He kicked my ass with Dark Hollow, one of my favorite books this genre has to offer; whooped me silly with Dead Rising and City of the Dead; did a number on me with the short story Burying Betsy; and played with my emotions through a few other pieces of genre mastery (even his entry in the hard to find Excitable Boys, Full of It, which is just wonderfully disgusting). Granted, I wasn’t so much a fan of Ghost Walk, Urban Gothic, An Occurrence in Crazy Bear Valley, or The Damned Highway, but most of what this man has to offer hits me in a place that usually stays quite well hidden. It’s literature like this that speaks to the blue-collar boy in me, and evokes something that I try to keep out of the public eye for the sake of retaining some semblance of composure. Something that was utterly torn out of hiding with Alone.

See, when Keene wants to talk to you about being alone, being scared, or being separated from that which you love, you have no choice but to identify with it. That’s what this novella does without blinking – it makes you feel.

Now, I know my usual snarkiness and sarcastic banter is what keeps people coming back for more (if only to figure out how not to review a book), but I’m going to have to put that on hold for a minute and tell you why this story is so goddamned different from all of the other pieces of horror fiction you’re apt to find out there.

First of all, Keene opts to introduce a main character in a homosexual relationship – something I can’t possible applaud louder for. Growing up on Poppy Z. Brite and Clive Barker, being a huge fan of LGBT horror fiction, and being one of the most sexually secure man-droids you’ll ever meet, I have to give it to Keene for taking the initiative to step outside of the boy’s club suppositions and do something else with the character in this work. And what’s more is the fact that Keene writes his character without a single stereotype or misgiving about the man’s sexual orientation. This is a big and down-to-earth move for such a notable fixture in the genre. Why others can’t do this, and that includes authors that are heavily into the LGBT scene, I don’t know.

When I started reading this novella, I wasn’t really sure what I was heading into, but it started off feeling a little like Darkness On The Edge Of Town. I dug the hell out of that book, and was sure that I was in for a good old Levi Stoltzfus kind of tale. I was wrong, as I’m usually told by the ladies, and was instead treated to Dan’s silent torture and mental collapse.

Keene uses the idea of suspending one’s disbelief well with this one, creating scenarios and rules that make a helluva lot of sense in his world, and not a lick of such in reality. It’s not until the end where you find out just why things happen the way they do, and by that point it doesn’t even really matter what’s going on. I felt like my ears were plugged, by breath was catching, I was claustrophobic, and sure that Keene had watched the last 4 months of my life from behind a tree – creepy Bollywood style.

The ending played out a little too easily for me, but it still rings true with the intention put forth for the entirety of the story. You can tell where the tale is going, but if you’re like me, you read for the sake of absorbing, and not for the whole “what happens at the end” crap that some other folks do. Keene’s got his swagger on high, but it’s this ending that makes things feel a little rushed. Regardless, he writes a mean story of heartache and loss when he wants to, making this reader feel a little uncomfortable when things hit this close to home.

Not to say that I’m stuck in a muffled, grey covered world or anything. I can just empathize with poor old Dan’s “what the fuck is gong on”, is all.

For a buck or two, Alone is a brilliant tale that will kick your heart’s ass, and beautifully exemplifies Keene’s ability to write you into a state of awe and woe, and keep you coming back for more.

C.

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