One of the greatest advantages of buying new fiction for the library is that I get to see all the wonderful stuff that’s coming out, and to choose the things that seem especially interesting or exciting to me. Of course, one of the disadvantages is that I want to read all the new books and nobody has time to do that!
The moment I ordered Keith Lee Morris’ book Travelers Rest, I knew I wanted to read it, and not just because one of the categories in the 2016 Reading Challenge is “Read a Horror Book” (though that certainly encouraged me). Followers of the blog will remember that I wrote about it in a preview when it first came out a couple of months ago, and I hope I made it sound really intriguing then.
Now that I’ve read it for myself, I want to encourage everybody who’s doing the Challenge, and everybody who enjoys a great, atmospheric creepy novel to read Travelers Rest for themselves.
If you’re saying to yourself, “Oh, I don’t like horror books,” because you’re thinking of books with monsters and zombies and the like, or books with tons of gore and blood and cruelty, then this is exactly the kind of horror book you’re going to like. It’s a book that produces its effects by description, by the gradual accumulation of details, by giving you characters you care about and showing you, bit by bit, what’s happening to them, and it is incredibly effective.
The story begins when a family — Tonio, the father, Julia, the mother, Dewey, the son, and Robbie, Tonio’s loser brother — leaves the interstate highway in Idaho one night in a snowstorm, pulling into a town called Good Night and finding themselves at a hotel called Travelers Rest, a dilapidated and creepy hotel that once, clearly, was an opulent place. From the moment they enter the hotel, it’s clear there’s something very strange about the place, the way the man running the hotel refuses to take any money for their stay, the way different members of the family can see, or almost see, scenes from the past, the way no cell phones work properly and the ancient television only seems to show slow motion images, grainy and strange, of almost familiar figures. And the snowstorm goes on and on, making it seem very unlikely they’ll be leaving the next morning. As indeed, they don’t, but not just because of the snowstorm. The family members are separated and can’t seem to find each other again: Robbie finds the nearest bar and gets back into trouble, Tonio leaves the hotel to find help and can’t seem to get back to the same hotel he left, Julia finds herself perpetually unlocking a door to a room she knows and doesn’t know, a room that changes each time she’s in it, and Dewey, left to himself, manages to meet up with the couple running the diner across the street, a couple who seem to know a lot more about the town and the hotel than they’re saying.
Any horror story involving people stuck in a hotel in a snowstorm has the shadow of Stephen King’s The Shining looming over it, and you probably will think, when the story is beginning, that you’re on familiar turf, but you’re not, and very soon Travelers Rest has pulled you into its unearthly but very believable world, where some people just disappear altogether and others remain in the town as “souvenirs”, unable or unwilling to leave. The book plays on primal fears of abandonment, of being lost and forgotten by those you love, those on whom you rely, and it packs a wallop. The first time you actually experience someone disappearing, which comes late in the book (and no, I’m not going to spoil it by telling you who’s the victim), it is absolutely chilling, and by that point you’re so hooked you can’t stop reading until you find out why this family is here, and what’s going to happen to them.
The snowstorm is practically a character in itself, and for those of us who have lived through real blizzards, Morris’ descriptions are wonderfully real and vivid (maybe this would be a good book to read in the middle of summer) and accurate. The characters, too, come to life, none of them a stereotype even though they start out as near archetypes: Robbie the ne’er do well brother, Tonio the emotionally repressed husband and overprotective father, Dewey the precocious ten year old, Julia the mysterious woman who seems to hold everybody else together. Add echoes from the past, the possibilities that people are able to be in two places and two times simultaneously, and hints of something terrible that happened a hundred years ago in this very spot, and you have a horror novel that’s intricately plotted, creepy and moving, right to the last sentence, which gave me goose bumps.
Looking for a horror novel for the 2016 Reading Challenge? Stop off at Travelers Rest for a time you’ll never forget.