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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Degrees of Darkness

Each of us has our own definition of what constitutes dark, be it a book, a film, a conversation, etc. Differing definitions aside, I've learned the hard way that it's sometimes wise to issue warnings. The book I'm recommending today - if not capital "D" dark - will never appear on anyone's list of light reads.   

"He doesn't plan these things. He only acts and each action remains separate and complete in itself: the fucking, the killing, the shitting, the eating. They could come in any order at all. No one is prior to or superior to the rest."

Since finishing The North Water weeks ago, I've vacillated about breaking my longstanding practice of avoiding offensive language here. But that graphic passage - a succinct distillation of the psychopath inhabiting Ian McGuire's 2016 novel - seems to me an ideal way to help any reader decide if they want to spend time with this book. Is it dark? If you choose to read it, you decide. Is it narratively thrilling? It is. Is the choice of third person voice perfect? Yes. Is it compelling from first sentence ("Behold the man.") to last? Without question. This is Melville without the sidebars, Cormac McCarthy without the nihilism, Donald Ray Pollock without the grotesquerie, entwined in a primal tale pitting evil vs. less-than-heavenly. 

Although I'm often uncertain when finishing a book how long it will stay with me, I had no doubt after reading the final sentence of The North Water that this story of survival at any cost would be with me for some time. I remain haunted. 

"He feels a moment of fear, and then, in its wake, as the fear fades and loses its force, an unexpected stab of loneliness and need."

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