"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

It’s a prelude: "Take the Long Way Home" by Brian Keene (Deadite Press, 2006)

....They were looting the Wal-Mart as I walked past. Surprisingly, the whole thing seemed pretty civil. Locals, people I knew and faces I recognized, filed out of the store carrying everything from food to televisions. They pushed shopping carts filled to overflowing with goods. There was no fighting or shoving. It was eerily calm. Neighbors greeted each other, and helped each other load up their cars and trucks. I heard laughter, saw lovers holding hands, children smiling. The scene was polite and friendly, almost festive. A carnival atmosphere where all that was missing was a Ferris wheel and a few cotton candy vendors. Maybe a trained elephant doing tricks for the kids, as well.

Take the Long Way Home by Brian Keene (Deadite Press, 2006)

In the afterword to this novella, author Brian Keene puts his bona fides on the table:

I was raised by two Irish-American Protestant parents, attended a Methodist church, and was even the president of the church youth group at one point, if you can dig that. My grandparents were Presbyterians, my extended family hardcore Southern Baptists, and I once dated a preacher's daughter. My point is; I was surrounded by religion, specifically Christianity, all through my childhood and teenage years. Readers have commented that my fiction seems to be primarily based on the Christian mythos—well, that's why. 

    Readers have also said that they see a deep schism; that I often depict God as the ultimate bad guy, and I think that's also a fair assumption. I trace that to adulthood. As a young man, I traveled the world and was exposed to many other religions and alternative ways of thinking. I came to realize that what I was brought up to believe wasn't the whole truth, the big picture, and that there were millions of other people whose ideas and faiths were just as valid and deep and personal.

    I've gone through phases: occultism, powwow, paganism, Buddhism, atheism, and finally, agnosticism. At forty-three, I'm no longer sure what I believe, and that bothers me more and more each day. I believe in an afterlife, but I'm not sure that it's Heaven. I believe that there's something more to this world, to this universe, something behind the veil, but I'm not sure that it's God. 

    Sometimes, it seems like the more I learn, the less I know.

"Take the Long Way Home" is not satire or black comedy or send-up. Keene presents The Rapture as a real event: a trumpet blast is heard around the world, then millions immediately vanish. Good people and not-so-good people remain and must contend. Mistakes, errors in judgment, violence, and carnage ensue. 

Keene lets the reader infer the widescreen epic character of the catastrophe, but carefully only follows his own trio of protagonists, on foot, as they walk their daily commuter route home from suburban Baltimore to small-town southern Pennsylvania. 

In the Maryland portions of the story, maddened crowds wreak havoc, pertetrate mob violence, and inflict vigilante death. Keene does not push a gloating we're-the-real-monsters line indulged in by many contemporary visceral horror writers. He suggests it, certainly, but is careful to counterpoint such moments with expressions of longing, ambivalence, regret, and existential dysphoria sparked by the crisis.

Late at night, narrator Steve Leiberman finally gets a ride from a minister who is driving to Harrisburg. As the physical agonies of hours of walking, escaping, evading, and facing a variety of mortal perils abates, Steve observes:

     "We'll survive," I said. "We'll pick up the pieces, dust ourselves off and move on. We always do. Look at everything the human race has been through. We always bounce back."

    He shook his head. "Not this time. The next seven years will quite literally be hell on earth. War. Famine. Earthquakes. Disease. Total chaos."

    "Don't we have that now?"

    "No, Steve. This is just the beginning. We have those things now, but they pale in comparison to what's coming. This will be a tough time for the tribulation saints."

    I gasped.

    "What's wrong?" he asked.

    "I—something you said just made me think. I heard something similar earlier today."

    "How so?"

    I told him about all that had transpired. Even with the disappearances, I didn't expect him to believe me when I got to Gabriel and the skinheads turning into salt. But when I'd finished, he simply nodded his head.

    "You've been chosen."

    I snorted, trying to keep the sarcasm out of my voice. "Chosen for what?"

    "Don't scoff. A dynamic new leader is about to arise. People will see him as a great man. He will fix everything, stop the lawlessness and chaos and usher in an era of peace."

    "But you said it would be Hell on earth. Wars and famine and all that."

    "It's a false peace, and he's anything but a great man. The Bible calls this man Antichrist. He's a descendent of those who destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. But who he really is, is Satan. The Antichrist will enjoy worldwide popularity. People will love him like no other world leader they've ever known."

    "Who is he?"

    "I don't know. He has yet to reveal himself. But I'm sure he's already active. We've probably watched him in action for years, and loved him without knowing his true identity. Soon, most likely within a few weeks, he will set up a new one-world government in response to today's events. He'll even bring peace to Israel with the signing of a seven-year agreement."

    "Never happen," I said. "There will never be peace in Israel, especially now. And what does this have to do with me anyway? You said I was chosen."

    "The signing of the agreement kicks off a seven-year period called the tribulation, and those who receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior after the Rapture are called tribulation saints. Many of them will be Jews, just like you. Revelation talks about the 144,000 Jewish witnesses. These witnesses, the tribulation saints, will be protected supernaturally from the horrors to come. Much like you were today, with your guardian. What did you say his name was?"

    "Gabriel," I whispered. He'd mentioned something about the 144,000 as well, when Al the skinhead held me at knifepoint.

    "Gabriel the Protector. You do know Gabriel was an angel of the Lord?"

    "No," I said. "But I do now."


Brian Keene is clearly passionate about exploring the end of the world in his fiction. "Take the Long Way Home" is a powerful story, curious and alive to the contradictions at war in its world. As in the only other Keene book I have read, The Conqueror Worms (Leisure, 2006), there is nothing of the "relentlessly trashy" method S. T. Joshi condemns in his piece on the author in 21st-Century Horror: Weird Fiction at the Turn of the Millennium (Sarnath Press, 2018).

Like Keene, I am passionate about end-of-the-world literature, past and present. "Take the Long Way Home" is smaller in scope than works like King's "The Mist" or Koontz's The Taking, but it is no less serious for all that.


24 August 2021

No comments:

Post a Comment