26 September 2006 by Published in: entertainment No comments yet

Low Red Moon is an enthralling tale of people backed into corners and making bad choices. Whether it be the irrevocable kiss that makes a professional relationship much more (or much less) than that or siding with murderers who may (or may not) be the lesser of two evils, everyone in this book is going the wrong way. Things go bad, reliably and (for the reader) rewardingly.

Joyfully, somewhere between Threshold and Low Red Moon Kiernan dropped the habit of mashing up adjectives, which I found distracting. Her prose, poetic and involving as ever, captures the horror and beauty of the world — often simultaneously. She is a complete mistress of mood and atmosphere. Reading her books is delightful and wrenching. I still admire the way she uses heat and light to evoke terror, the way lesser horror authors use darkness.

Low Red Moon improves upon Threshold with clarity in the sequence of events and a faster paced, more involving plot. So those people who complained of being confused by the “ambiguity” of Threshold need not be afraid of Low Red Moon. I respect that she moved toward specificity without sacrificing mystery. There were a couple of bits that confused, but I think that might have been a shortcoming of mine, as a reader. I felt like clues must have been set to tell me which of the people speaking was most unreliable, but I missed them, so I wasn’t sure who to believe. None of that was major, though.

However, there’s something that bothered me in Threshold that was a thousand times worse in Low Red Moon: the dialog. It’s not that people spoke particularly unrealistically (though I did roll my eyes a bit at the cheesiness) or out of character (though occasionally I was like zuwhaa?). No, in fact, the dialog is, if anything, too mundane to sit comfortably alongside the rest of her gorgeous writing. Whenever people talk in her books, they’re being complete assholes to one another. I’m supposed to believe this man and that woman are married, but they can’t stop bickering. I’m supposed to believe these natural enemies are going to team up against the bigger bad, but they’re confrontational, belligerent and provocative at every utterance. Not a single main character can ever say something nice to another. Minor characters who are polite or pleasant are unfailingly redshirts. There’s condescension, sarcasm, bitterness and accusations in spades, but never kindness or decency. Now, I realize everyone in the book is under a lot of stress. Belief systems are being shattered, horrible things are happening, and there’s even hormonal pregnancy craziness involved. Maybe the dialog is intended to reflect that. And maybe, once I noticed that I didn’t care for the dialog it became that thing I couldn’t ignore or look past, so that every new round of backbiting seemed worse than the last, even though – objectively – it may not have been. I don’t know. All I know is that these people seem unable to say please, thank you, I love you, I forgive you, anything like that. They’re unable to be emotionally honest with one another. They cannot confess any kind of weakness: not fear, not pain, not even that they have a raging migraine headache. Maybe the goal of all this vicious dialog is some kind of message about every person’s isolation. Maybe it was Kiernan’s way of turning up the tension (though I thought she did better with interior monologues on that score). To me, it was exaggerated to the point of caricature. I will probably read another book of hers, but I’m sensitized to the dialog thing now, so I hope her characters’ conversational mode changes in some of the later books. Additionally, I don’t recollect noticing any issues with dialog in the short stories I’ve read, so I’m encouraged by that, as well.

To sum up, I enjoyed the book, and was glad I read it. Sometimes I wished the characters would just shut up, true, but that’s no different than life, is it?

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