John Saul

I awoke this morning at about 6:30, which is far earlier than I really wanted to get up on my one day off, but was not able to get back to sleep. We recently put up a thick curtain over the south-facing window in the bedroom, which a street light was shining through to keep us awake, but have only a blind over the west facing window. Long story short it was bright as noontime in the bedroom by then, I find it difficult to sleep when it is light out. Thus I am groggy and feel like crap in general. I did manage to finish the book that I was reading, however I am not sure if it is a contributing factor in my current mood.

John Saul’s Black Creek Crossing was the book that I finished reading this morning. For me to criticize an author’s writing is much like being the one legged man in an ass kicking contest, but I am not going to let that stop me this time. There will be some spoilers in this, keep that in mind if you ever plan to read it.

I have read a lot of Saul’s work, mostly in my late teens/early twenties, and one thing that I can say for them is that they read pretty well. The flow is usually pretty good, due in part to the fact that you know what is going to happen long before it ever does. His descriptions of places and people work pretty well also; quick enough to not bore you but complete enough that you can recognize places or characters by name. The prose itself is straigt forward and not cluttered with a lot big words for the sole purpose of showing off his vocabulary. With the exception of the overly dramatic prologue, and other such examples littered throughout the book, there is not a lot to complain about in the writing. Saul certainly isn’t Dickens, but he can get the story across in a pretty fluid way, in my opinion anyway.

Now just to note a few of the major problems with the book. The story about the teenager being picked on and getting revenge on his/her tormentors is certainly in at least half of all of Saul’s books. The “horrible things happened in the house in the past, and they happen to the new family that moves in also” premise has been done to death, by Saul. Most all of his books start with a family moving into a house, then something within the house or the community making the new occupants relive the old horror. The family that moves at the beginning of this book at least includes both a mother and a father, often in his books it is just the mother and a single child. Of course the father in this story is an abusive, incestuous alcoholic, so not much of a stretch to not consider him a father.

I am not going to go into any more of the similarities between this book and others that he has written, if you have read any of his other work you already know, if you haven’t it would take only the first chapter of any of his work to see it. He writes what sells, more power to him.

one of the issues that I really had with the book was with the demeanor the main character (Angel)’s parents. The father (Marty) was being portrayed as a very abusive and controlling man. There were at least a couple of occasion where you were led to believe that he was being physically abusive to his wife, albeit offscreen. This physical abuse, as well as most of the verbal abuse, was happening while he was drunk, which was most of the time. In one scene he actually raised a beer bottle with the intent to hit his wife with it. Yet, for some reason, there are several times when the wife (Myra) yells at him and he cowers like a little puppy. That is not the behavior of any of the abusive alcoholics I have ever known, it also made me certain that the father was no threat for the duration of the book (which was bad since he was the only variable I hadn’t explained within the first twenty-five pages).

Now, just to nit-pick. The novel is 358 pages long, that is including the prologue and epilogue. There are 47 chapters, that means that the average chapter (including the prologe and epilogue) is just about seven pages long. Many of the chapters are less than four pages long, and one would have been less than one page were it not for the white space for the chapter heading and the blank space at the end. Throwing all copyright and fair use laws to the wind, I will quote chapter 46 for you right here:

SETH BAKER CAME AROUND THE BEND IN THE ROAD and saw the house that stood at Black Creek Crossing looming against the night sky. Even though there were lights on, the house had a look of terrible foreboding about it, and as he made his way across the lawn, part of him wanted to turn away and go somewhere else.
But there was nowhere else to go.

Not after what had happened in his house.

As he approached the front door, the awful sense of foreboding grew stronger, and he paused at the door, which was standing wide open, and listened.

A silence seemed to emanate from the house, a silence that felt as if it was about to swallow him up. Once again he wanted nothing more than to turn away, to leave whatever was inside the house undiscovered, and again he knew he could not. Steeling himself, he stepped over the threshold into the living room.

The television was still on, but somehow even its droning didn’t dispel the strange sense of silence that imbued the house.

Knowing he didn’t want to see whatever it was that lay beyond the living room, but knowing there was no alternative, he moved deeper into the house.

He found Angel at the bottom of the stairs, staring at the bodies of her parents, who were lying on the floor-her father on top of her mother-in a pool of their own blood. Myra Sullivan’s eyes were open, and as he looked down at her, Seth had the uneasy feeling that she was looking back at him. Turning away, he looked at Angel. “It happened at my house too,” he said softly.

Angel gazed at him, and for a second Seth wasn’t sure she even saw him. A moment later, though, she spoke, her voice hollow:

“I know what we have to do.”

Seth said nothing and when she led him out of the house, he silently followed.

They crossed the lawn to the road, and instead of turning right, toward the trail that would lead them to the cabin hidden in the cliff, Angel turned left.

Once again, Seth followed….

That is punctuated exactly as it is in the book. I am not very good at sight typing though, so I may have a misspelled word in it. The strange capitalization at the beginning is also just like it was in the book. For some reason the first line of text in every chapter was all in caps. Why? I got no idea. This was the shortest chapter in the book, but not by much. There were several chapters that were just a bit longer than this one, and many of them did basically the same as this one; it doesn’t tell you anything at all. This particular passage isn’t really necessary in the book at all, why emphasize it by calling it a chapter?

The little passage here does illustrate the overly dramatic thing I was talking about though. The fact that he separates a couple of lines into their own paragraphs, most notably “But there was nowhere else to go.” and “Not after what had happened in his house.”

It kind of puts me in mind of the writing I did while I was in my teens, of course the lines set that way gave me goosebumps when I read them back to myself, in reality they don’t seem to have that effect at all, or perhaps they do but only for a much younger reader.

To end this before (hopefully) the friend who bought the book for me and got it autographed takes me off of his christmas list, I will just say that it is a John Saul novel. If you have never read anything by Saul, Black Creek Crossing is a pretty good example of his writing. It has been a long time since I have read the other books that he wrote, and they honestly blend together in your mind since they are all so similar, but I do believe that you should read at least one of his novels. Saul doesn’t seem to posess the unlimited imagination of someone like Stephen King, but the one story that he has been telling (over and over again) over the course of his career is worth a look.

Were I to pick one of Saul’s novels to recommend, this one probably wouldn’t be it. If pressed I would probably recommend Black Lightning even though the reader reviews just shred it. Black Lightning is a serial killer story though, and I think a lot of the reviewers were serial killer buffs. At any rate, Black Lightning was one of only a couple of Saul’s works that I didn’t know the ending of within the first twenty-five pages, in fact I recall still being guessing until near the end.

• Nothing else of note to speak of today. Tune in next time to see if I am indeed removed from my friend’s christmas card list.

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