Bad Man by Dathan Auerbach

It’s not too often that I pause while reading a book to admire the writing. I mean, just the craft, the way the words are put together: I really enjoy the way Dathan Auerbach writes. The writing falls apart a bit as the book progresses — you can almost feel the deadline looming, the way the transitions go from smoothly turned to unintendedly jarring — but this is still a solidly written horror novel. Set in the 1980s in the Florida panhandle, Bad Man is the story of Ben, a young man who is a teenager when his little brother goes missing on a trip to the grocery store. Five years later, Ben’s family is still barely coping with Eric’s loss. Ben himself has hardly recovered from the twin disasters of his brother’s disappearance and an earlier car crash that seriously weakened his leg. Desperate for work, Ben accepts a position as stock boy at the same grocery store where he last saw Eric. Spending long nights there, often alone, has him starting to believe that the place holds sinister secrets, and that if only he can uncover them, he’ll be able to discover once and for all what really happened to his brother.

Bad Man is a terrific exploration of guilt and longing and memory in small-town America, far removed from bucolic romanticism and nostalgia. I would have liked more of an explanation of the particulars of Eric’s abduction: I assume he was lured away but the details otherwise are elided a little too much for me. I want to know why his abductor did it (“crazy” is not a good enough reason for a book that isn’t afraid to dive deeply into Ben’s psyche,) and more about Blackwater and the blond kid. And, I dunno, I didn’t really like the ending. I can sorta get over what happens to Ben, but I think it could have been linked back to the beginning better. I also didn’t really get the point of the interludes, which I imagine are a story told by the blond kid to Eric. Again, I felt like it was something that could have been linked back more tightly to the main narrative.

Overall, however, I quite enjoyed the way this book dealt with the horrors of child abduction and its lingering aftereffects on everyone involved. Going back to the subject of craft, there were so many set pieces that begged for a visual adaptation that I’m kinda hoping this makes its way to a screen somehow. I don’t usually like horror movies, but I’d definitely consider watching that one.

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