Growing up in the absolute Northern-most part of Kentucky, I can safely say I still grew up in the South. Speaking as a Southerner, something Northerners need to understand is the South is creepy. Inherently so. It is a place filled with wilderness which is always just over the hill from civilization and always seems to be ready to retake what's been stolen from it. The people are insular, gossipy, and full of secrets.
Child abuse, incest, murder, substance addiction, alcoholism, and worse exist under a thin veneer of respectability which never quite successfully hides the dark side. True Detective managed to capture an authentic Southern feeling while True Blood did a decent job of introducing many to the more Gothic elements to our homeland. Compared to, say, England, the American South isn't very old but it feels very decayed.
Now, if you think I'm exaggerating these elements, I recommend you go drive through a Southern town in the middle of the night and take a good long look at your surroundings. If you really want to risk your life, I suggest you go to a gas station in the middle of the night and just watch the various oddballs who come in.
Sundowners manages to capture the feel of the American South's horror elements very well.
The premise is Coil Stevens is a New York City artist coming back to his family home, another peculiarly Southern tradition, to help with his sister after she suffers a psychotic breakdown. Cassie has Sundowners syndrome, according to her doctors, which means she's normal for much of the day but has violent episodes when night falls.
Coil is not a happy man as he was more or less driven out of town due to unwholesome rumors which emerged from sources unknown. His relationship with his family is similarly strained. He and his sister were not close, his father died not long after disowning him, and his only living relationship is his spinster Aunt who insists on trying to reconcile him to the town he fled running. There's his ex-girlfriend, too, but there's a sense of dread to the place. The town doesn't want him and he doesn't want to be here either.
To make matters worse, the town is suffering a peculiar upswing in violent crime. More and more people are going crazy in bizarre and horrifying ways at night. Sundowners syndrome is spreading, though it's never been as creepy or horrifying as this. Tonia Brown has a peculiar gift for showing regular minds going insane in a nasty, brutish, and gory way. Not much violence happens in Sundowners but, what does, is effective.
While not an actual story set in the Cthulhu Mythos, the novel has numerous elements Lovecraft fans will find intriguing. The hidden secrets, the horrible family history, and the nightmarish creatures which can't really be put in any real categories are all present. While I don't begrudge the author for her originality, she could have stuck a reference or two to Shub-Niggurath and found herself a whole new audience.
Sundowners manages to be a above-average horror novel with a likeable cast and very atmospheric depiction of Southern life. Its mood is authentic and nicely accentuates the horror when it happens. I also can relate to people who are stuck with family they wouldn't have necessarily chose if they'd been given the option of someone else.
I'd have given this book a nine out of ten if not for the fact that the ending didn't feel authentic to the characters as written (at least, in my humble opinion). One of the characters is revealed to have done something unforgivable to another and said character brushes it off. Indeed, they act as if it doesn't matter despite the horrific consequences both mentally as well as emotionally it resulted.
I have siblings I love.
If forgiveness ever came, it would be years after the fact.
Otherwise, I will say Sundowners is an otherwise good piece of horror fiction. Something of an abridged Stephen King novel worth an afternoon's read. It's definitely light reading which, while scary, is nothing which will tax you too hard. Still, I wish the author had kept the emotional roller coaster going until the end. In real-life, sadly, some things just can't be mended. I'm glad I read it, though.
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