Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Midnight Voices, by John Saul, Read by Aasne Vigesaa, Brilliance Audio, 2002

There is an old wheeze about how writers only write one book or one story and they write it obsessively over and over. This hearty stock belief is certainly disheartening and surely doesn’t apply universally.

However, in the case of schlock organ grinder, John Saul, it is decidedly the only profound thing you can say about the man. Every book he writes sounds like he’s working off the same Mad Libs page filling in just the barest details to update the story.

The Unloved: Now, for the first time in two decades, Kevin Devereaux has returned here [Devereaux mansion] with his wife and two children…and now all the dark secrets of this once proud Southern family will emerge…

Nathaniel: For a hundred years, the people of Prairie Bend have whispered Nathaniel’s name in wonder and fear. Some swear he is a terrifying spirit returned to avenge the past...that he is darkly, horrifyingly real. Nathaniel--he is the voice that calls to young Michael Hall.

Second Child: A lush, secluded Maine seaside resort. Summer playground of the superrich. One hundred years ago, something disturbed their play. Horror came to this village…It waits for a shy young girl.

The Right Hand of Evil: When the Conways move into their ancestral home in Louisiana…it is with the promise of a new beginning. Abandoned for the last forty years, the sprawling Victorian house seems to swallow up the sunlight. Deep within the cold cellar and etched into the very walls is a long, dark history of the Conway name

The Blackstone Chronicles: From atop Blackstone’s highest hill, the old Asylum casts its shadow over the village. Built in the 1890s to house the insane, the Asylum has stood vacant for decades. But now, the wrecker’s ball is about to strike — and unleash an ominous evil.

You get the picture, right? Ancient, ominous evil, small children, horrors unleashed. This festering paycheck entitled Midnight Voices is more of the same. It’s just beginning-to-end awful without a single redeeming feature save as a testament to how debased a commercial venture publishing really is. Certain monkey authors, able to churn out a book or two per year and sell millions to brainless teenagers, have been able to bypass the usual “editing” process and go straight from word processor to grocery store shelves as though the enormous printing houses of American book publishing were no more than their very own vanity press.

Here’s this book’s nutshell: Carolyn’s husband, paranoid that someone’s watching him, goes jogging in Central Park as night is falling because he believes this will relieve him of stress. The idiot is promptly killed. Carolyn mourns — for about a month — then begins dating her new man, Tony, who moves her and her two children, Ryan and Lori, into his creepy apartment building. Ancient horrors are unleashed to no one’s surprise save the brain dead characters.

The ancient horror in this case turns out to be all the other residents of the building, decrepit old people who feed on children to stay immortal. The book actually goes to the trouble of incorporating the supernatural element of old people vampirically living off the young, then tries to gussy it up with medical equipment vaguely involved. For what purpose? Is an IV so much creepier or original than just having them suck blood or spirit or essence?

It’s the kind of book that resembles dumb movies featuring suddenly, conveniently empty streets for car chases or scary scenes in which our heroes think they’re being followed. Pardon me for not believing that after going to a seven o’clock movie your Manhattan street would be deserted on your way home. Pardon me for not finding “voices in the night” particularly unsettling when one lives in an apartment building.

And perhaps I’m unfamiliar with Manhattan apartments, but somehow I can’t imagine that a luxury apartment bedroom, hell, any bedroom, could reasonably be described as “huge, nearly twenty square feet.” For those of you not spatially inclined, twenty square feet would equal a room that was 5 foot by 4 foot, 2 foot by 10 foot, 1 foot by 20 foot, or somewhere in between. It is approximately the size of an office cubicle. Tony’s apartment is also described as a duplex, which I seem to recall was a house or apartment split into two dwellings, which his isn’t, but whatever.

You see, it’s not bad enough that Saul insults anyone who picks up his books by constantly dishing up the same tired crap, he also has the bestseller’s luxury of no editor to correct his ridiculous factual or logical errors. Reading John Saul is like reading what Steven King would write if he were in a coma.

For example, when Carolyn decides to break into Tony’s study, after her son’s fear of him makes her suspicious, she manages to pick the lock with simply a paperclip bent into a right angle. I am here to tell you that that is one hundred percent impossible, even for an experienced lock breaker. I bought a lockpick kit years ago and practiced on it for hours before I was able to regularly unlock a door. This simplified piece of equipment involved no less than two pieces of bent steel, one to turn the lock and one to engage the various tumblers in the lock mechanism. You could open a child’s five-year diary with a paperclip maybe, but no door, no matter how primitive, would submit to such a jimmying.

But my favorite of all the dopey bits was the line “After all, that was the definition of paranoid: that the things you imagined you thought were true.” I listened to this howler several times to try to first make sense of its syntax. Did it mean by “things you imagined you thought” that you only thought you were imagining them or that you were imagining that you thought them? And which, if either, of these things were true? And is that the definition of paranoia?

In a word, no. That is the definition of delusional, perhaps, such as the belief that you are a good writer despite being an idiotic hack who constantly repeats himself, but it is not in the ballpark of being the definition of paranoid.

Aside from the redundant plotting Saul employs, his characters are so wafer thin that they make the Stock Negro introduced in slasher pictures solely to be sliced and diced look like a model of Shakespearean fullness. After the murder of Carolyn’s beloved husband, she remarries in less than a half a year. This seems, oh, I don’t know, un-fucking-likely in any world, real or fantasy. And what’s up with all the goddamn blushing? Everyone in this book blushes constantly, their faces nothing more than a big red blotch of confessions. Within the first two discs, the main character, her daughter, and her son all blushed. The blushing is so prominent that even Carolyn’s horrid boss is susceptible. But then, when steely poker faces are really a matter of life and death, suddenly everyone’s got them. Like magic.

Like hell.

This book was literally so bad that when the janitor began vacuuming near my desk, I made no effort to turn up the volume to hear any of it. What difference did it make? What would I have missed? Logically challenged blather dressed up in booga-booga prose? Another obvious plot twist that was so predictable I saw coming years ago in my cradle?

If there were a literary hell for such piss-poor craftsmen like Saul, it would be trapped on a desert island with only the Collected Works of Marcel Proust and Finnegans Wake on hand. Midnight Voices is, quite simply, the worst book I’ve ever sat and listened to ever in my entire life, ever. It is a crime against humanity that should be prosecuted in The Hague. Were I a millionaire, I’d take a bounty out on the author’s hands. Saul, at the very least, should have his assets seized and he should be clapped in irons.

Preferably in a dark, ancient prison whose horrors are just waiting to awake…

The reader, Aasne Vigesaa, rushes through the book, which should be a relief, as bad as this drivel is, yet it only makes things worse, her sharp, flat voice ramming into your ears like little nails. That the book takes place in New York lets her sample a variety of very annoying accents on for size. Never liked the Brooklyn sneer? Oh, you’ll get plenty of it here. That’s the real horror.

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