He flips to the middle, one of the arbitrary-looking photographs with mysterious captions, this one darker than the others but otherwise similar: a dirt road through brush with a few scraggly trees that look like mesquites. The caption reads "Luminescence." But there's nothing luminous. The trees are so dark they're practically silhouettes, the sky barely lighter, everything gray with tiny flecks of white here and there like imperfections on the print. And nothing in the text.

Psychological horror novel, written by David Searcy in 2001. The book was Searcy's first novel, and it's pretty short -- you should be able to read it in a week or less. And it seems to inspire one of three different reactions: utter devotion, baffled confusion, or vehement disgust.

A quick and fairly vague plot summary: Frank Delablano is a 70-year-old widower living in a drab housing tract in the suburbs. He's perfectly content to keep to himself, eat TV dinners, take landscape photos, tend to his beloved rosebushes, and live a quiet, quiet existence. He discovers that he may have gophers in his lawn that will imperil his roses, so he sends off for "gopherbane," a non-flowering South American plant. As it turns out, the non-flowering plants do indeed have flowers, beautiful, blue, strange flowers. But they do get rid of the gophers. After that, Frank begins noticing unusual things.

There are far more signs for lost dogs and cats than normal.

The streets always seem to be deserted.

The company that sold him the gopherbane no longer exists.

The little girl from next door is strange and disturbed.

Frank's books on botany have very odd photos that make little sense.

There are shapes on the window at night.

There is an animal lurking out there in the dark.

Is Frank just an old man creeping slowly into senility? Are the gopherbane plants actually evil? Are the plants causing unsettling hallucinations? Or is there something far more terrible coming?

I don't yet know the answers to those questions. I have my suspicions, but I just can't say for sure.

I picked this book up for a bargain while I was wasting time in a small chain bookstore before a job interview -- and for that reason alone, I consider that to be my second-favorite job interview ever. I love the stuffing out of this book -- the characters, the lush yet off-kilter language, the mood of the book, ominous and hallucinogenic at the same time as it wallows in the mundane humdrum of our everyday lives -- it all combines into something that is ineffably creepy.

Even though I love this, I don't recommend it for everyone. If there are monsters in the book, you never see them. There is no blood dripping from the ceiling, no demonic voice in the cellar, no tentacled gods in the ocean. There are long stretches of the novel where nothing happens, and we watch nothing happen for several pages of Frank's quiet and slightly befuddled observation. Many reviewers find this unspeakably unpleasant; just as many find it unspeakably delightful.

I would dearly like to pigeonhole David Searcy someday and ask him what on earth happens in the last dozen pages, even though I know he'd just smile and ask what I thought happened. I have no idea if Frank has lost his mind in a perfectly normal world, if Frank is a sane man in a world that's shredding to pieces, or if both Frank and the world have lost their grip on reality. Maybe the ordinary horror is that no one went mad and nothing unnatural happened -- just life, lost in the wind, drab and dying on an empty suburban street.

horrorquest

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