Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The End of the Sentence - Maria Dahvana Headley and Kat Howard

The End of the Sentence is a slightly creepy character piece.  The narrative protagonist purchases a dilapidated house in a small town, after experiencing an initially unrevealed trauma. Within the house he uncovers a small mountain of letters. All were sent from a nearby prison. All indicate that the writer is soon to leave the prison, and return to the house. At the same time, the house begins to behave in unexpected and (at least initially) unexplainable ways.

This is really a piece about both mood and character. The first person format is mixed with the protagonist reading and writing letters, which gives an interesting change in perspective. But mostly, the reader is dropped into the protagonist’s world, and slowly shown what it is that has driven him to escape to the middle of nowhere. At the same time, we’re left with the mystery of who is sending him seemingly endless letters from prison, how long they have done so, and exactly what it is that they want.

This central mystery is nicely staged – as the protagonist searches for clues and understanding, they also react much as anyone might – trying to evade, disbelieve or argue against their apparently assumed obligation. The truth behind the mysterious ‘sentence’ of the letter writer is eked out to both the central character and the reader at the same time – we as much in the dark as he, which helps evoke the atmosphere of confusion and fear that the piece is going for.

The text isn’t afraid to delve into the depths of character; how the protagonist reacts under the slowly building pressure is, simply put, marvellous. Strained, disbelieving, determined and somewhat afraid – and terribly human. The authors have managed to find a unique voice here, one which is entirely believable. At the same time, their supporting characters suffer a little – this is partially a function of viewpoint, I think; as the reader is so mired in the protagonist’s perspective, it’s hard to tease personality details from other members of the cast. Still, they serve their roles well enough, and one, at least,  manages to be highly emotive and effective foils to the central character; it’s just a shame that there wasn’t room to explore them further.

The other side of the piece is the mood, and  it’s marvellously done. The initial banality, with a slight suggestion of hidden depths is terribly Twin Peaks, and very readable. As the reader and protagonist get further into the text,  it becomes possible that something outside of the initial experience is occurring. The sense of gradual, creeping horror starts on the first page, but by the middle of the text, the frantic protagonist is matched by a reader perturbed by an unspoken mood of grinding terror. This isn’t a book full of jump scares, or a bloody demise – instead, it leaves to the imagination the potential horrors that are alluded to through the text, leaves both protagonist and reader to draw their own conclusions, and is the better for it.

Is it worth reading? Well, it felt very short – perhaps because I felt compelled to keep turning pages to find out what would happen. But, on the other hand, as a mood and character piece, it’s spot on. The plot is plausible within the confines of the world it creates, and makes for an interesting read. Given that, I’d say it’s worth picking up – assuming you’re in the mood for a book of character mixed with a slowly building horror. 

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