By Al Sarrantonio (Leisure; 2006/07)
This novel, one of the latest by the prolific Al Sarrantonio, is part of a trilogy of Halloween-themed tales. I haven’t read the others yet–for that matter, this is my first-ever reading of a Sarrantonio book, period. While I don’t feel HALLOWEENLAND is fully successful, I was impressed with the lean, confident, almost Richard Laymon-esque prose, and will definitely be reading more Sarrantonio publications.
Why is this novel not a full success? It has to do with the overall structure, which begins in riveting fashion only to abruptly switch mid-book to something far less compelling. The reasons for this are explained by the fact that HALLOWEENLAND began as a stand-alone novella called THE BABY (published by Cemetery Dance in 2006). The Leisure edition of HALLOWEENLAND includes THE BABY, which is odd, as (up until the final pages) its text is identical to that of HALLOWEENLAND’S first third.
Yet this unique two-for-one publication provides an eye-opening look at just why it is that HALLOWEENLAND doesn’t flow as well as it should. Quite simply, the material works better as a novella.
THE BABY begins, as does HALLOWEENLAND, in the sleepy town of Orangefield, with a young woman having early morning sex with her husband…who she later discovers was killed shortly before the sex occurred. She also learns she was impregnated that fateful morning, and that it was accomplished by the spirit of her just-departed husband. This piques the interest of Samhain, the Lord of the Dead, because the birth promises to deliver up a being who coexists in the worlds of the living and the dead. The birth occurs, appropriately enough, on Halloween, and THE BABY concludes with the child fading into the ether upon being exposed to our world.
In HALLOWEENLAND, however, the child survives and the mother dies. The focus then switches to Detective Bill Grant, who’s present at the birth but loses consciousness before he can do anything to stop it. There’s a time jump of five years, which sees Grant probing every conceivable lead for the child, a girl, and her guardian Samhain. Grant ends up jetting off to Ireland, Samhain’s initial stomping grounds, and then back to Orangefield in time for another Halloween, and a vast carnival called Halloweenland. There Samhain and his supernaturally endowed charge are planning an apocalyptic spectacle. In the process Samhain becomes an unlikely (and in my view disappointing) good guy, and his true angelic nature is unveiled.
None of this is bad, mind you. The writing of the latter sections has the same precision and economy of the opening third, and there are some compelling psychedelic pyrotechnics toward the end. Yet the book overall never flows, feeling like two (or more) uneasily fused tales, with the beginning portion far more edifying than the middle or end.