Review: In the Valley of the Sun by Andy Davidson (2017)

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My Rating: 5 stars                                          Read: 4/2/2017

Release Date: Jun 6, 2017

Blurb:

For readers of Joe Hill, Cormac McCarthy, and classic Anne Rice, a chilling tale of suspense and horror set deep in the Texas desert.

Travis Stillwell spends his nights searching out women in West Texas honky-tonks. What he does with them doesn’t make him proud, just quiets the demons for a little while. But his nights soon take a terrifying turn in a desert cantina, where Travis crosses paths with a mysterious pale-skinned girl in red boots. Come the morning, he wakes weak and bloodied in his cabover camper, no sign of a girl, no memory of the night before.

Annabelle Gaskin spies the camper parked behind her rundown motel and offers the disheveled cowboy inside a few odd jobs to pay his board. Travis takes her up on the offer, if only to buy time, to lay low, to heal. By day, he mends the old motel, insinuating himself into the lives of Annabelle and her ten-year-old son. By night, in the cave of his camper, he fights an unspeakable hunger. Before long, Annabelle and her boy come to realize that this strange cowboy they’ve taken in is not what he seems.

Half a state away, a grizzled Texas ranger is hunting Travis down for his past misdeeds, but what he finds will lead him to a revelation far more monstrous than he could ever imagine. A man of the law, he’ll have to decide how far into the darkness he’ll go for the sake of justice.

When these lives converge on a dusty autumn night, an old evil will find new life—and new blood.

Deftly written and utterly compelling, this is an atmospheric literary fiction debut perfect for fans of horror, psychological suspense, and Western fiction.

My Review:

The buzz for this book bill it as a “literary horror novel” and compare it to Joe Hill, Cormac McCarthy, and Anne Rice. I’m not sure about the comparisons (Anne Rice is way more flowery), but this is definitely what I would call “literary horror”.

The gorgeous writing is the most striking thing about this book. There are dozens of sections I highlighted for the (terrible) beauty of the language.

And then it happens, as sudden as day dropping away to night; the hunger inside her wakes. It shakes off sleep and steps out of its cave and into the night, a new and steaming thing, and above it the stars look down with cold indifference upon its single, murderous intent.
She touches her fingers to her lips.
‘What am I now?’ she wonders. ‘What evil thing am I?’
She eats.

Or

Sandy shifted from one foot to the other. “This gone hurt?”
Travis lowered his arms. “I ain’t gone hurt you,” he said.
All around the yard, the sodium lamps that studded the property flickered to life.
Sandy ran at Travis, and Travis found one last measure of strength in hands and arms and legs, prized up from some small, forgotten corner, where the light was dim and the earth had not yet been disturbed.

The writing juxtaposes rural dialogue and a visceral descriptive sense of the desert dry and shit poor South (truck stops, honky tonks, and a dried up and littered road side motel) with high-brow philosophy and darkly lyrical prose. It reminds me a little of the HBO series “True Detective”. That is high praise from me.

I think the writing and the description of the setting outshine the actual plot a bit. This is a vampire story. Travis (called a “cowboy” because he dresses like one, though he isn’t) is travelling in a camper and truck around the southwest. He’s haunted by the vanishing of his floozy mother when he was a boy and by the things he saw in Vietnam (both of which have made him essentially impotent with women). He has killed several girls looking for whatever was lost or ruined by these experiences. And then he meets the vampire. She thinks she’s found a kindred spirit and converts him, but Travis, though incredibly fucked up in the head, puts up more of a fight with his killer nature than she expected. He is befriended by a woman with a young boy (who own the nearly abandoned motel). All of the characters in this story are empty holes of want (that you fear will never be filled). The boy wants a father. The woman who owns the hotel wants a man. The vampire wants a companion in Travis. And Travis wants that glimmer of real love and normalcy he’s only ever seen from the outside. The reader is left to wonder if he will kill the woman and boy in the end or successfully fight his myriad demons.

There are no happy endings in this horror story. The themes are very dark–the relationship between mothers and sons (with a bit of an Oedipus Complex for grins), the way that love is usually a disappointment and people rarely live up to our expectations, the struggle for life and inherent cruelty in humankind. There’s also some interesting twists on the vampire canon. Forget Twilight, the vampires in this story are horrible, corpse-like things.

Readers looking for a quick-paced gore show may find themselves getting impatient. I found the plot to sag a bit in the middle. There are lots of short scenes where not much happens other than characters sitting around brooding and being all poetically existential. However, if you appreciate dark and beautiful writing, a menacing sense of dread, evocative southern gothic feeling, and some very gritty and horrific vampire imagery, you should really read this book.

I loved it and hope Andy Davidson produces more of the same quality. His bio says he has a MA in Creative Writing and teaches college English. He only has one other novel, published years ago. I hope “In the Valley of the Sun” gets the attention it deserves.

Book Links:

Goodreads

Amazon (up for pre-order)

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