Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Staff Pick—The Missing by Sarah Langan (2007)

The MissingSarah Langan has done it again: kept me up till all hours of the night with a story that grabbed me—by the throat, as is usual in Ms. Langan's case. The Missing is somewhat of a sequel to her debut novel, The Keeper, a story about another small town in Maine that battles its own evil.

Lois Larkin, a spurned ex-fiancee who moved back to town to care for a sick relative and stayed on in her untouched teenage bedroom, takes her third grade class on a field trip to a neighboring ghost town. A troubled student refuses a field trip buddy, and is accidentally left behind after heads are counted. When he wanders into the woods he is beckoned and then infected by an evil so ancient it existed before humans stood upright.

The infection mimics symptoms of tuberculosis: fever; wet, labored breathing; fatigue. The sickness is airborne, and soon the hospitals are filling up, the schools are closing, and the townies are turned into "zompires," returning to their homes, businesses, or anywhere else they need to go to feed and settle old grievances. I say zompires because they're some kind of zombie/vampire mutt—mutt being the perfect word since they tend to run faster on all fours.

What Langan is best at is creating an entire life for a character in a walk to get the paper, in a lisp and a forgotten lunch, in a memory that haunts any hour of the day. There are no throwaway characters in Langan's fiction: every character, no matter how infrequently they appear in the story, has a tale to tell.

Sarah Langan has been compared to Edgar Allen Poe and Peter Straub because of the deft way she has of slowly building suspense for her dark stories and carefully crafted characters. Although Langan's stories can get pretty gory, her dark fiction puts me in the mind of Shirley Jackson, whose introverted characters made The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle the Gothic classics they remain today.

Langan has written three novels: The Keeper (2006), The Missing (2007), and Audrey's Door (2008). The Keeper was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award; The Missing and Audrey's Door won Bram Stoker Awards. The odds are good that Ms. Langan has a long and successful career ahead of her.

The Official Sarah Langan Web site
We Have Always Lived in the Castle review

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