Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Unspoken

Ooh, this is a creepy one. This book is filled with unexplained deaths, worst fears realized, and eerie end-of-the-world lunatic prophecies. Prepare to be creeped out. Also prepare to be slightly frustrated by the ending.

Six teenagers are the only survivors of the religious cult known as the Divine Path, led by Jacob Crawley, a charismatic and violent man who recorded the children's dreams and used them to prophesy the end of the world. Each of the children suffered at Jacob's hands. His various punishments for their small acts of rebellion revealed to him each of their worst fears. Jacob then foretold that the the Divine Path would be betrayed and that five years later the children would all die, each suffering the realization of their worst nightmares. In some ways this prophecy came true. The children did indeed betray Jacob, by setting a fire from which he could not escape. In the end all of the followers of the cult died except for the six kids who were then separated from one another and parceled out to far flung foster homes.

Five years later Allison has still not completely recovered from her cult childhood. She's doing better but she still suffers from epilepsy and she still bears the scar on her neck, given to her by Jacob. But she's doing okay, even has a boyfriend and she likes her foster family. Life goes on. But then Allison receives an anonymous email, an obituary of one of the other six kids. He drowned but was found lying in a field miles from the nearest water source. Drowning was always his worst fear. Allison finds herself heading back to Meridian, North Carolina for the first time since the fire. At her friend's funeral she is reunited with the other survivors. And one by one, each of them begins to die, just in the manner Jacob Crawley foretold. Could it be true? Was Jacob right? And will their deaths unleash the end of the world?

Like I said, prepare to be creeped out. Blood (lots of it), burning, burial. . . all of this and more can be found in this slim book. The build up is great, but the conclusion is open-ended. A day after finishing the novel I still can't decide whether or not I like the openeness of that ending. In some ways it is satisfying. The reader gets to decide what is going to happen next. In some other ways it felt like things began to get out of the author's control. A few of the plot turns stretched credulity, even for a supernatural horror story, causing the reader to wonder who exactly was controlling the teenagers' fates. God? The cult? Pure evil? I felt I wanted a better explanation for some of the events that happened in the book. I didn't like the subplot involving Allison's murdered younger sister and felt the explanation (one of the few given) for that tragedy wasn't believable. On the other hand, the mysterious and bloody ends that several characters met remained an uneasy mystery. I guess, in the very end, I like being left with the uncertainty of the world's future. I keep thinking about the book, torn between frustration and satisfaction. Although the ending could have been smoother, it was still worth reading and it gives a good chill, which is just what a horror story is meant to do.

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