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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Graham Joyce: "The Silent Land"

Author: Graham Joyce
Title: The Silent Land (Otherworldly Suspense)
Ratings: V2; S4; H2
Publisher: Doubleday (2010)

     I have to say right from the beginning that this book is not paranormal fiction. So, why, you say, is it being reviewed on a paranormal fiction blog? Well..simply  put, it's a great read and it does have a heavy touch of other-worldliness to it—no supernatural creatures, but it does have an element of fantasy and just a touch of creepiness. This is a compelling story, one that will keep you reading into the night, and looking over your shoulder every once in awhile.

     When Zoe and Jake go out on a mountainside in the Pyrenees early one winter morning, they believe that they will spend this, the second day of their ski vacation, slaloming down the slopes. Their dream of a perfect day is shattered, however, when an avalanche catches up with them and buries them in the snow. After freeing themselves, they head back to their hotel only to find it completely deserted—not a single person anywhere. The near-by village is also empty of humanity, seemingly evacuated at a moment's notice. Zoe and Jack make themselves comfortable, warming up in a steamy bath and fixing a meal in the hotel kitchen. The next day, they try to drive to a neighboring town, only to go off the road, almost over a cliff. They try again the next day, but the road brings them back to where they started. No one answers the phone, no matter who they call. Candles that they light one evening still burn brightly the next evening. And the story gets stranger and stranger from there.

     Zoe and Jake have been married for ten years and love each other tremendously, but they have had rough spots over the years.  At first, they seem to be an average, uncomplicated couple: Jake, the practical protector and Zoe, the optimistic achiever. But as their adventure and their touching love story stretch out over the days, we take a closer look and begin to see them as  complex and interesting individuals. Joyce handles their dialogue in a believable, natural manner, with both humor-filled banter and serious conversations ringing true. Each character is presented sympathetically, with both strengths and imperfections.

     Most of the chapters deal with Zoe and Jake's adventures on the mountain, but two chapters tell the stories of final days of each one's father. Both of these chapters attempt to answer the question, what exactly is death? These sections are powerful and eloquent explorations of the unknowability of death and the hereafter.

     Although you, like Zoe and Jake, may begin to figure out what is happening, you probably won't see the total reality of the ending until the moment that Zoe herself suddenly understands the situation. As the couple gradually figures things out, they become stronger, more mature, more loving people, each striving to help the other make it through to whatever their ending will be.

     Joyce's matter-of-fact-prose moves along straightforwardly, yet it has a dreamy quality to it, catching us up in the frosty mist and the swirling winds. Tension mounts subtly, with no one event pushing our fear button, but as the characters' uneasiness grows so does ours. The bittersweet ending is enough to bring even the most hard-hearted reader to the edge of tears.

     And speaking of endings: I know that some of you are addicted to reading the ending of a book first, but I'm begging you not to do that with this one. If you do, you really will spoil the story for yourself, and you'll be sorry for that.

     Joyce, a science fiction/fantasy author, has written 12 previous works of fiction for adults (including The Tooth Fairy, How to Make Friends with Demons and The Limits of Enchantment) and several for young adults. This is the first of his books that I have read, but based on the quality and style of The Silent Land, I plan to read more.

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