Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Horrors in the modern American west

In The Valley of the Sun

Andy Davidson

Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing

Pub. Date: June 6, 2017

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

It is inevitable, when one writes a dark novel about the contemporary west , he is going to be compared to Cormac McCarthy especially when the novel is steeped in literary prose. It makes sense since McCarthy is both very literary and usually quite dark. But in reviewing this particular work, I'm going to mention another name. Larry McMurtry, the author of Lonesome Dove and The Last Picture Show is the other modern master of the western novel. In my eyes, his novels, especially those of the contemporary west, are more sensitive to the changes in the west to the family, the decline in optimism and lifestyle, and a shrewder if cynical exploration of relationships and dreams, especially those dreams which may have missed their chance and long passed.

On reading In the Valley of the Sun by Andy Davidson I see more McMurtry than McCarthy. Davidson's very literary horror novel may be much darker than anything McMurtry wrote but there is still the sense of the struggle and hope of people in the forgotten parts of the West. That struggle and hope rings through with the characters of this excellent novel (all but one to be precise) even if the final result is not what they or you would like it to be.

Travis Stillwell is a man haunted by his past and acting on his past in an horrific manner. In the Fall of 1980, he leaves a chain of murders which catches the attention of a Texas law officer who begins hunting for him. In a West Texas bar he meets a woman named Rue who has her own designs on him, attracted to him by sensing he has an evil past and can be as evil and corrupt as she is. When Travis wakes up the next morning he is changed, He has a hunger that regular food does not fulfill and an allergy to sunlight. He finds his camper truck in back of a restaurant and shut down motel that he does not remember pulling into. Annnabelle, the widowed proprietor of the barely surviving restaurant has pity on him and offers odd jobs to pay for his stay. Travis , Annabelle and her son Sandy start a odd and tenuous relationship that is in direct conflict with what he is becoming and the hold Rue has on him.

I might has well say it and get it over with. This is a vampire novel. But it is far from any vampire novel that you may have read before. The form of the vampire and the nature the transformation makes this fairly different but the psychological horror aspect takes center stage and we become immersed in Travis' dilemma. He is transformed at the same time he is offered something that may be his way out of his murderous addiction and senseless searching. Annabelle has similar concerns, caring for a child by herself, still grieving the death of her husband and fearful to move on. Annebelle is tied down to many social and psychological restrictions too. "Men have dreams. Women have secrets" she says. Both see a possibility through each other to break the chain but hovering over this hope is Rue who needs Travis to fulfill her own demonic goals in a symbiotic relationship with Travis that is dependent on his feeding and her enslavement of him.

So what we have is a horror novel but one that touches upon more than just vampires and visceral horror even though much of what we get of that is truly frightening. If one is looking for Salem's Lot or Interview with a Vampire, they will probably be disappointed. Setting it in the West Texas of 1980 is an inspiration, before the advent of the internet and when these small Texas towns still had a sense of isolation and the sense that their best days were behind them. I can see those readers into the modern western dramas of McMurtry and McCarthy really getting into this but those who are into horror and vampires will also like the unique take of a well-traveled horror genre. I cannot see anyone not being moved by the ending of this novel and I can only give it my highest recommendation.

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