Thursday, October 2, 2014

Audiobook Review: Hold the Dark

Listened 9/23/14 - 9/27/14
4 Stars: Recommended to fans of the kind of literature that's cold and dark and gets into your bones
Audio 6.7 hours
Publisher: Liveright Publishing / Blackstone Audio
Released: September 2014

I am not ashamed to admit that I was trolling looking for something to fill my ears during the commute to work when I stumbled across Hold the Dark. I hadn't heard a peep about it (which is usually a sign that I am onto something), but the cover and title caught my attention right away, and the blurb sold me seconds later.  

Set in an Alaskan village so far off the map you'd never know it existed unless you were born there or beckoned there, during the teeth-chattering and snot-freezing dead of winter, Hold the Dark is a twisted, chilling thriller of a story. The wolves are starving and desperate. Children are going missing. And when Medora Slone swears one took off with her son, she sends a letter off to wolf expert and nature writer Russell Core, begging him to come to the village to help her reclaim his bones. 

As Russell attempts to settle in and starts digging into the goings-on in Keelut, Medora disappears and her husband Vernon returns from the war to discover the news of his son. With his crazy-ass childhood friend Cheeon in tow, Vernon goes on the hunt for his wife, driving deeper into the Alaskan wilderness, leaving a trail of dead bodies for local detective Donald Marium to clean up after him. Things are definitely not what they appear on the surface of this strange and unfriendly place and we soon discover that it's going to take a whole lot more than Russell and Marium to ebb the grieving father's desire for revenge.

Hold the Dark is an extremely dark and violent, slow moving, tension-filled tale that's meant to mess with your mind. In it, we witness the lengths to which an isolated village will go to stand together and protect its own.  A place where law is not necessarily recognized and strange, murdery deeds typically go unquestioned. A place where a man will put himself through hell to get back the one thing he wants most and death will befall those who are dumb enough to get in his way.

William Giraldi's careful prose and simplistic world-building go a long way to pulling the reader in, despite it's slow place. His willful withholding is actually part of the book's charm. And the near-tender descriptions of his characters' violent acts render them almost beautiful. Kudos also to Blackstone Audio, for finding a reader capable of conveying the quiet fierceness of Giraldi's words.

My only real critique is the final chapter. Despite the fact that had a different feel to it, as if it was written by a different hand, it felt like a sad surrender to a story that could have, and should have, gone off in another direction. Perhaps by eliminating that last chapter, the book would have been stronger. Perhaps if Giraldi had a little more faith in his readers, he wouldn't have needed to take it that far? Look, if you're an attentive reader, you'll pick up on some of what Giraldi's laying out as he goes along; you'll already have a sense of what's coming, of where he's heading. Trust me. That final chapter just cleans up what should, in my opinion, remain a messier tale.

Also, can we get off the whole "comparing every new author to a super-famous author that they kind of sort of write similarly to" now? Can we, please? I've seen Giraldi compared to both Cormac McCarthy and Ernest Hemingway. Why? Because he writes sparse, bleak landscapes? Stop. Just stop. Let's not pollute the waters around a fresh and emerging writer. Let him be who he is without the pressures of having to stand as tall as our literary heroes. And let's just agree to enjoy the cold Alaskan landscape he sets his words in, as it freezes our skin solid and sends icy cold chills up and down our spines. 

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