ENTER, NIGHT by Michael Rowe

I don’t read much horror these days. A novel that opens, as does Michael Rowe’s debut Enter, Night, with “The vampire in the dirty green army surplus jacket and cowboy hat boarded the Canada Northern Star Charter Lines bus from Ottawa to Sault Ste. Marie at noon.” is one that I will generally put promptly back down, despite the poetry of the sentence. But this particular novel is a nominee for the Prix Aurora, and its spine bears the mark of the reliable genre curators at ChiZine Publications, so I was willing to give it a few more pages.

My aunt Margaret was a lifelong lover of horror novels. I remember, as a bookwormish child, asking her about this book or that one that she was reading. “What’s it about?” I would ask. “You wouldn’t like it,” she would say. “It’s too scary.”

Naturally, the result was that I started reading horror at a very young age. I started with Margaret’s favourite authors — Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Peter Straub — and then gradually widened my net to include such classics as Poe and Lovecraft. Though some of what I read stuck with me deeply, I was in the end forced to admit that it wasn’t for me.

As I grew older and began to find my bearings on the wider sea of literature, I would from time to time stumble upon a story that, though clearly a work of horror fiction, was able to sink its hooks firmly in. The Wasp Factory, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Blindsight. And I would pass the book on to Margaret.

She never had a lot to say about these recommendations. “It was okay.” “I liked it mostly.” “It wasn’t really for me.” Then, one day, she started recommending books back at me, and they were fantastic. It wasn’t until years later (too late, in fact) that I recognized the lesson. I had been giving her books that were in the centre of my palate but had a hint of the flavour she preferred. She, on the other hand, had been studying the geography and topology of my tastes and offering me treasure maps to the uncharted regions within.

I don’t read much horror these days. A novel that opens, as does Michael Rowe’s debut Enter, Night, with “The vampire in the dirty green army surplus jacket and cowboy hat boarded the Canada Northern Star Charter Lines bus from Ottawa to Sault Ste. Marie at noon.” is one that I will generally put promptly back down, despite the poetry of the sentence. But this particular novel is a nominee for the Prix Aurora, and its spine bears the mark of the reliable genre curators at ChiZine Publications, so I was willing to give it a few more pages.

Or actually, maybe more than a few. Flipping through the book now, I can identify the precise spot at which I transitioned from dutiful reading to invested. It’s on page forty-one, chapter five: Christina Parr, recently widowed, has packed her teenaged daughter and brother-in-law into a rundown Chevelle and they are trekking north from Toronto to the only support network she has left, the cruel and insular small town she fled fifteen years earlier. Rowe’s bio has him born in Ottawa, but I am certain that he spent some time in the sticks. I’m not sure I have ever before seen the simple horror of returning to a place where everyone knows everyone and no one forgets anything so perfectly captured.

For a little while after that the story kept me thoroughly engaged. There are interesting characters and family dynamics at once thoroughly credible and excruciatingly malignant. There are locales so familiar and described so lovingly that I almost feel they could sneak into my own memories and trick me into believing I’ve been there. There is florid prose that displays the all too rare talent of knowing when to dial it up and when to dial it down, thus allowing the poetry in without ever taking on a purple hue. And the vampire from the opening line turns out, to my relief, to be not be a literal monster but only a metaphorical one.

There are a few hiccoughs, of course. The book contains a quantity of editorial oversights, including glaring time and distance inconsistencies, that is far out of character for the usually meticulous folks at ChiZine Publications. If such things bother you a great deal, I would definitely recommend waiting for a second edition. Rowe further demonstrates an over-reliance on reflexive omittables like “of course” and “for his part” and a tendency towards showing his work, but these are things we must be willing to forgive in a debut novel. Overall, things are going well.

And then, at almost exactly the midway point of the novel, the literal monsters do show up and start wreaking formulaic havoc. Enter, Night is not a reinvention of the vampire story. It is not Let the Right One In, or Blindsight, or even Twilight in that regard. These are vampires played relentlessly straight and set loose on a cast of uncommonly multidimensional characters in the midst of an otherwise compelling story. This is when Enter, Night lost me, I’m afraid.

I want more resolution from the drawn out reunion between erstwhile gay lovers, one now out and proud and the other a heroically repressed small town cop, than a gruesome attack and a “go before I hurt you.” If you’re going to sell me the Wendigo myth, you’ll have to come up with something more than a half dozen lovingly described cannibalistic murders and seventy pages of appendices to convince me to buy it. I need my monsters to mean something; it’s not enough that they terrify and come this close to total victory.

But I can recognize that my tastes are not universal. They are an irregularly shaped archipelago occupying only a small part of the realm of good fiction. Taken on its own terms, Enter, Night is fantastic and I can’t fault its fans at all. More than anything, Enter, Night made me sad that I cannot recommend it to Margaret. She would have loved it.


Voting for the Prix Aurora is underway from now until July 23. See our previous reviews of this year’s nominees: The Pattern Scars by Caitlin Sweet, Technicolor Ultra Mall by Ryan Oakley, Napier’s Bones by Derryl Murphy, Eutopia by David Nickle and Wonder by Robert J. Sawyer. A voter package featuring many of the nominees is also available.

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