The Captive Conditionby Kevin P. Keating (Website, Twitter)
Published by Pantheon on July 7, 2015
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Crime, Horror, Literary Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours
Amazon • Goodreads
I received this book for free from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
A seemingly idyllic Midwestern college town turns out to be a nexus of horror in this spellbinding novel—emotionally and psychologically complex, at once chilling and deliciously dark—from a thrilling new voice in fiction.
When Emily Ryan is found drowned in the family pool, pumped full of barbiturates and alcohol, a series of events with cataclysmic consequences ensues. Emily’s lover, a college professor, finds himself responsible for her twin daughters, whose piercing stares fill him with the guilt and anguish he so desperately tries to hide from his wife. A low-level criminal named The Gonk takes over the cottage of a reclusive elderly artist, complete with graveyard and moonshine still, and devises plans for both. His young apprentice, haunted by inner demons, seeks retribution for the professor’s wicked deeds. The town itself, buzzing into decadent life after sundown, traps its inhabitants in patterns of inexplicable behavior all the while drawing them toward a night in which the horror will reach its disturbing and inevitable conclusion.
Delving into the deepest recesses of the human capacity for evil, Kevin P. Keating’s masterful novel will captivate readers from first to last.
This has been my “Summer of Horror,” and to mark the end of the season and a lot of wonderfully dark and twisted books, Kevin P. Keating’s The Captive Condition was my end cap. I’d like to say that this novel lived up to my expectations, but maybe a chocked-full summer of great horror has raised my expectations and made the competition quite stiff.
The Captive Condition is quite dark and hopeless, with nearly every person residing within the area hating their lives–with the exceptions of the eight year old twin girls, who are full on the creepiest twins I’ve read (think the movie version of The Shining). Main narrator Edmund is a failing graduate student who’s forced to take on work as a groundskeeper to make ends meet, and it’s here that he notices that his thesis adviser Professor Kingsley has been carrying on with a neighbor, Emily. When Emily drowns in her own pool and is discovered by a drunken Edmund, he becomes unhealthily obsessed with her. Emily’s twin girls are abandoned on Professor Kingsley’s doorstep for him and his wife to raise since he can’t cope, and those two evil girls put him through the ringer.
In the opening pages, I wasn’t sure what time period this book was supposed to be set in since the writing is quite descriptive and overly long. It even reminded me of something dark and brooding that would be set in dark Victorian England until a concrete setting of Normandy Falls in Ohio was established. While the book is mostly in third person, it jumps from narrator to narrator with each person sounding mostly the same. The bleakness and hopelessness that the characters had shone through quite clearly in this dark comedy, and I found this book to take quite a few pages of setup before things really started to takeoff.
The story is full of suspense and dark humor, which I did quite enjoy. The more unsavory characters of the townies in this college town, like Edmond’s boss The Gonk and his coworkers, were quite depraved and sadistic, and I certainly wasn’t rooting for them. But there wasn’t really anyone to root for in this book, and in a way, that’s a bit of a problem.
I give The Captive Condition a three out of five. With suffocatingly stiff and wordy prose, I often found myself thinking that reading this novel was more like work than what reading should be: something fun and enjoyable while you’re challenged to explore new worlds and characters that you’d love to never come across in real life. There was so much potential in the twisted town of Normandy Falls and the residents who seemed trapped within that the question of how Emily actually died seemed to fall by the wayside. Then why spend all of those first pages seemingly setting up that mystery? Kevin P. Keating can clearly write and write well, but it was hard to slog through a large paragragh that could have been said in two sentences–it takes away from the story too much.
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About Kevin P. Keating
After working as a boilermaker in the steel mills in Ohio, KEVIN P. KEATING became a professor of English and began teaching at Baldwin Wallace University, Cleveland State University, and Lorain County Community College. His essays and stories have appeared in more than fifty literary journals, and his first novel, The Natural Order of Things, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes’ Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. His second novel, The Captive Condition, will be released by Pantheon Books in July of 2015. He lives in Cleveland.
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