Nightshadeby Published 28 Mar 2006
|Format||Mass Market Paperback|
Saul Gets Scarier
John Saul has been terrifying readers for more than two decades, and we keep coming back for more. It's easy to see why when you read his latest tour de force, Nightshade, a chillingly creepy tale that will have you looking over your shoulder every chance you get. Stunningly crafted, with a plot that has more twists than a bag full of pretzels, Nightshade promises to be Saul's most compelling novel yet. And given his backlist of grimly horrifying but riveting fare, that's no small accomplishment.
In a small New England town, Joan Hapgood is content with her life until the events of one fateful afternoon trigger a long string of tragedies that threaten both her future and her sanity. It starts when Joan's mother, Emily, who has been steadily deteriorating under the effects of Alzheimer's disease, accidentally starts a fire while trying to cook. To say Joan's relationship with her mother is strained would be a gross understatement. In Emily's eyes, Joan has always been a poor second to her sister, Cynthia, who was beautiful, devoted, and bright. Despite Cynthia's death many years before, Joan still lives in her big sister's shadow whenever Emily is around. Not only has Joan never been pretty enough, bright enough, or loving enough, but she has a bastard son whose father remains unknown -- all unforgivable sins to Emily.
Against the wishes of her husband, Bill, and her son Matt, Joan moves her mother into the Hapgood family home where she and Bill have lived for ten years. Emily's insistence that Cynthia is not only still alive, but present, combined with her viciously acerbic attitude toward Matt and Joan, strains Joan's marriage to the breaking point, forcing Bill to move out. Given that Bill is the only father Matt has ever known, the boy takes the separation hard, becoming understandably angry. When Bill ends up dead during a hunting trip -- possibly shot by Matt himself -- the town begins to wonder just how angry Matt has become.
The death of Bill Hapgood is followed by several mysterious disappearances, including that of Joan's mother, Emily. In each case, the bulk of the evidence points to young Matt, and soon the entire town is close to forming a lynch mob. Matt himself isn't sure what the truth is, for he keeps suffering odd fugue states and imagining that he sees, hears, and smells his dead Aunt Cynthia. For Joan, the intense grief brought on by her husband's death must be set aside as she fights to prove her son's innocence. But no one suspects the real truth, which is so bizarre, so horrifyingly twisted, it will haunt those who survive forever.
For those who like their plot lines well-crafted and convoluted, Nightshade is sure to please. From the unnerving first pages of the prologue to the final sentence on the last page, Saul tosses in enough red herrings and ambiguities to keep readers guessing. Horror fans won't be disappointed either; while the body count is a bit lighter than in some of Saul's other works, there is plenty of blood and gore to be had, and a ghost or two (or are they?) to liven things up.
Brain bleach...I need brain bleach.
There was not a time in my life when I didn’t love to read and when I didn’t appreciate a good horror story. By the time I was 12 or 13 YA horror stories were far too predictable and tame for me and I moved on to authors such as Stephen King, Anne Rice and John Saul. Although I never came close to reading everything John Saul wrote, I read quite a few of his books and specifically remember loving Nathaniel so much that I read it multiple times. Granted, my reading at thirty *cough* something is different than my teenage self. Even so, John Saul is one of those authors who I really liked, and I was looking forward to livening up my daily commute by revisiting him.
Apparently my teenage self wasn’t quite the reading snob I thought I was, because Nightshade was horrible. Had I been reading it (rather than listening to the audio version on my way to and from work), it for sure would have been quit after a chapter or two. However, the poor writing quality was just enough that I could concentrate on traffic without missing too much of the story.
Where to begin? Let’s see… Nightshade is the master of telling rather than showing. At no point did the story simply unfold on its own. John Saul told us everything. The majority of the story took place in the form of inner monologue, thoughts and feelings. There was very little dialogue or action. The story was told from an omniscient point of view and we heard the thoughts and some history of so many characters whose inner motivations (or personal conflicts and drama) didn’t really matter to the story. Regarding the characters, everyone was so one dimensional and predictable. Characters either did exactly what was expected of them, or behaved in bizarre ways without their behavior being explained or rationalized at all. Mysteries were only mysteries because John Saul chose to withhold important plot points until the near end of the book. There were issues of mental illness, jealously, delusions, dream sequences and paranormal activity and haunting. Strangely though people were unable to recognize severe mental illness in friends and family members, but ghostly possession put them on the alert that something just isn’t right within seconds of a person becoming possessed. And because John Saul apparently felt the need to cover his poor writing skills with a little shock value, there was some gratuitous violence, a snuff scene/dream sequence and incestuous statutory rape.
In addition to all of the above, the technical writing was beyond redundant. If only I weren’t driving while listening I would have paused and written examples down to share here. But, you will have to take my word for it that so many scenes went something like this,
“When Matt awoke, he smelled a rotten stench. Looking around he saw a person’s dead body covered in blood and flies only a mere feet from him. Suddenly he knew what the rotten stench he smelled upon first awakening was. It was the smell of a putrid corpse”
Well, fucking duh!!! Finally, there were little technical errors that should have been caught by the editor. For example, a woman who was applying makeup used her “pot of rogue.” Who the heck calls it blush “rogue” anymore or still refers to it coming in a pot? At one point, a character wants to know who teenage Matt Moore’s father is, so he spends an afternoon doing internet research. Despite the fact that the man doing the research isn’t a cop, detective, or hacker (he publishes a local, small town community interest paper) he decides that Matt’s mother cannot be his birth mother because, he could find no record of her giving birth anywhere. Um… hello HIPPA???
I didn’t go into this novel expecting it to be great, and even so was overwhelmingly disappointed. Interestingly, when investigating John Saul here on Goodreads, it seems that soo many people also loved him when they were younger teenagers. Huh. And I always felt like such a lone weirdo, being a Catholic School girl who loved reading horror paperbacks in the mid eighties ;) Perhaps John Saul’s entire fan base is comprised of socially awkward, book worm wanna-be rebels? LOL.
Chances are I will give John Saul another try. Rather than read something new, I’d like to go back to one of my old favorites of his. Nathaniel, The God Project or Brain Child. Something he wrote when he was still in his prime. But Nightshade? I’d like to say this was a waste of time, but it did keep me entertained on my way to and from work. Barely.
This book is good I'm finally getting a understanding of it. It is a little weird waiting on it get scarier. I would recommend it to anyone.
This book certainly messes with the mind. It pulls you in and just doesn't want to let go! So many twists and turn I just didn't know what was the truth and what was lies. Brilliant book with brilliant writing 🙌.
John Saul's haunting novel "Nightshade" had me staying up past my bedtime as I was quite engrossed in it. Horrors from a childhood better left forgotten reemerge when Matt's grandmother moves in. Plagued with dementia, the old lady is convinced her dead daughter Cynthia has come home - much to little sister Joan's dismay.
When a tragedy rocks the family, Matt's life is turned upside down and soon gets worse. People start to go missing and Aunt Cynthia starts visiting Matt leaving behind her scent of Nightshade.
With Matt suspected of murder, grandma missing and Joan battling her ghostly sister, long buried secrets are thrown in the spotlight and reach a bloody terrifying climax.