The Keeper by Sarah Langan

In a rotting-down town in nowheresville Maine, a woman with a broken mind haunts the minds of the inhabitants, tormenting their dreams and leading them to make deadly choices.

I picked The Keeper up after reading about it on SciFi Wire, but I have to say I was disappointed. The writing is assured, and Langan demonstrates considerable ability in bringing the reader inside the characters’ heads. She’s also not afraid of going for the gore, and some of her imagery will be sticking with me for quite some time.

Where The Keeper falters is in the plotting. Langan has a good engine–a rotting town that’s personified by a crazy woman–but she plays all of her cards in the first chapter. We know Susan is a nutso crazy ghost woman right off the bat, and I wished Langan had seduced me more. I was also disappointed by the central revelation that Langan uses to ground the last 100 pages of the book–it’s a hackneyed plot device of the kind that offers the illusion of depth through pure titillation. The secret that Susan and her sister are hiding is just a shortcut.

On a scene-by-scene basis, Langan shows off considerable skill. In particular, the chapter where Liz realizes that it’s over with her everloving boyfriend Bobby is a gem of internal focalization and spot-on insight into human behavior. But I didn’t find build, or even suspense. The Keeper is Langan’s first novel, and perhaps she’s taken on too big a challenge. However, she is certainly a writer to watch and one who will grow into her ambitions.

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