I read pretty much anything, from fantasy (City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett) to romance (Bared to You by Sylvia Day) to classics (Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad). The only genres I don't read are self-help and comic books/graphic novels.
30/3 - Okay, so hypothetical situation: you and your friend (both women) are driving through small-town America when a disturbingly disfigured 'man' comes scurrying out of the woods into the middle of the road. He is missing his lower half, not through an incomplete murder, but through a birth defect - he 'scurries' on his hands (wasn't this an X-Files episode?). He pulls a severed hand out of a vest pocket and throws it at you and then continues scurrying across the road and into the woods on the other side. The hand lands in the lap of your friend. It's most likely a woman's hand, determined by the coral nail polish. Your friend is horrified by the hand and tosses it back out of the car and implores you to get the hell out of there, to keep driving. You do so, but within a few minutes decide that it might be a good idea to stop at a local diner before you leave this town and make your way to the next one (you never know how far it might be till you get to the next place to eat). As you get out of the car at the restaurant the rubbing of your t-shirt against your nipples gets you thinking about how long it's been since you had sex, and contemplating the 'getting' of a man in order to get laid (and one for your friend, don't want to be selfish) once you reach your ultimate destination.
So, after reading that hypothetical situation I would like to ask all those women out there who've come across legless men in the middle of deserted roads winding through even more deserted wooded areas if sex was at the forefront of their minds immediately after the 'encounter' with the aforementioned man. No? You don't say? So what were you thinking about if it wasn't sex, or the lack thereof? Let me take a guess: Who does that hand belong to and what dreadful things have been done to her? Or maybe, where's a phone to call the police (originally written in 1981, so no mobiles)? It certainly wouldn't have been "I'm gonna get me some sex with a 'rugged mountain man' when we get to Yosemite".
A blurb on the back of the book, by Gary Brandner (author of The Howling), describes this as being "more disgusting than The Caller", which means nothing to me as I've never heard of The Caller but does tell me that this book is pretty disgusting (at least in Brandner's estimation). Just being disgusting isn't going to cut it these days, it might have worked in 1981, but the average reader expects realistic reactions from characters and having sex on the brain within minutes of being pelted with a severed hand is just not realistic. In fact, it reminds me of the realism practiced in the horror movies of the era, e.g. Halloween or Friday the 13th, where it was completely logical for young women to make a trip through the woods, in the dark, in the rain, wearing only undies and a t-shirt (who needs pants?), to get to the toilet block on the other side of Camp Crystal Lake (ki ki ki, ma ma ma). On Friday the 13th's Wikipedia's page the producer and director Sean S. Cunningham is quoted as saying that "This film was intended to be "a real scary movie" and at the same time make the audience laugh." After only seven pages I get the feeling Laymon may have been aiming for the same reaction with The Woods are Dark. I'm not sure if laughter is the best goal to have when writing a horror movie or book. To be continued...
31/3 - This really is pretty disgusting, so Brandner was right about that, but that's about all it's got going for it. Most of the characters are completely ridiculous. We've got Neala and Sherri who show a stupid lack of fear all through their abduction and being handcuffed to a tree, mostly making wise cracks that aren't particularly wise. Then there's Robbins, he was one of the girls' abductors, who upon seeing Neala has a change of heart and decides to go back for her (and by default, Sherri) because the sight of her face moved him (or some ridiculous shit like that). This made it necessary for him to put his and his family's life (sister, brother-in-law and their kids) on the line for this girl, who he's seen for all of ten mins and who probably hates him for abducting her. Worst of all is Lander, father to Cordie and husband to Ruth, but none of that matters because as soon as he catches sight of a pair of female Krulls (savage, mutant/deformed, humanoid cannibals who enjoy the feel of the wind on their nether regions as they hack their victims to death with whatever blade is handy) having a little lesbian fun during bath time all thoughts of the likelihood that his wife's brains are currently being eaten out of a bowl made from the top of her skull go straight out of his head. All he can think of is killing the ugly and non young and nubile (just like his daughter) girl, raping the Cordie replacement and then killing her too. As these ideas come to him and the girls get more involved in their fun he gets an erection and really has to fight with himself as to the morality of raping the pretty young cannibal bathing in the river. The non-rapist side of himself wins in the end because, as he reminds himself, "he's not a beast". During the whole 'to rape or not to rape' scene not once does he feel any concern over the health and well-being of his wife or daughter. What kind of father/husband... what kind of person is he?
The majority of the characters are stupid and completely unrealistic, people just don't behave like this in situations of extreme terror. I'm pretty sure that other men who have been the victims of extreme violence and terror (e.g. the brothers, sons, and fathers in places like the Congo or Bosnia who were forced to watch as entire villages were massacred and burnt to the ground, forced to watch as their female relatives were raped and murdered) failed to feel any kind of sexual arousal after watching their families being murdered. Men aren't robots with an on/off switch for their penises (although, I'm sure some wish there was), so either Lander's a newly discovered psychopath who belongs with the Krulls or he's a poorly drawn character (usually I'd go with the latter, but in this book anything could be happening). Maybe Lander is a beast after all.
Women, as a general rule (though there are exceptions), are terrified of being kidnapped and handcuffed to a tree. I find it highly unlikely that upon seeing further hostages being handcuffed to their own tree a woman would calmly say "Hi", or that one of the other hostages (another women) would just as calmly ask in response "Young ladies, do you know what's going on?". Where's all the screaming, crying, pleading, praying etc. that would surely be going on? I've never been sacrificed to naked cannibals, but if I am you can bet I won't be politely asking what's happening in the same manner I might ask my parents what their plans for the weekend are. I'll be screaming bloody murder until my voice gives out or they slit my throat just to shut me up. To be continued...
Later that night - Lander seems to have gone completely round the bend. He's talking to himself, talking about himself in the 3rd person, quoting literature (the sources of which I mostly don't recognise) while he hacks people to pieces (for food and fun) and no longer feels any compunction about raping any young girls he comes across. The story never made any mention of it, but, with all the literature he's quoting I've started to wonder whether Lander was a literature professor in his pre-cannibal life.
The plot feels like it's leading us to a big final battle and the way Lander's gone mad and happily fallen into the Krull lifestyle of killing and raping, and Cordie's current situation of possibly joining up herself makes me think that there might a fight to the death between father and daughter (an agreement between Cordie and Grar that her final test will be to kill her father, and if she survives she'll be part of the gang).
Even later - Finished and I have to ask, has no one thought of sending in the army? I suggest 1000 men with Uzis and body armour and night vision goggles (they had those in 1981, didn't they), and even a few airstrikes and maybe a tank or two. That should take care of the cannibal problem in Barlow with a minimum loss of life (to the good guys, at least). Final thoughts: the premise was good, but the characters were unrealistic and the apparent motto of 'lets have sex despite the probability of cannibals lurking in the forest' was a bit much.
The last 20, or so, pages of the book are a sample of another of Laymon's books (a more current one) called Beware. From the sample it appears to be a ghost story with a very violent ghost. I thought that had a lot of promise and will look out for it at the library.