Book Review : William Gorman - Blackwater Val (2016)
My parents weren't very gifted storytellers. Don't get me wrong, they gave their best shot to that bedtime entertainment thing, but it was so stiff and awkward that we both decided it needed to stop early in our relationship. This might be the reason why I need a certain does of predictability to enjoy a story. That moment when you sink-in deeper in your seat and can't help but grin because you're more or less sure of what's going to happen and it's going to be awesome? THAT. I like a certain amount of THAT feeling when I read books. Not always, but more often than not.
William Gorman's novel Blackwater Val isn't exactly full of surprises. It's as traditional as it gets, but who cares about surprising people when you're really good at what you do, right? It's a well-crafted, slow-moving and ominous classic horror novel.
Here's the thing: you've probably read a hundred novels with the same premise as Blackwater Val. A widower and his daughter move back to his Midwest hometown after spending rough years in the competitive and soulless publishing industry on the East Coast. Sounds typical, doesn't it? Wait for the rest: there's something wrong about Blackwater Valley, something corrupted. The protagonist Richard is oblivious to the looming threat because he's been away from too long, but the evil that's been waiting for him in the valley has been expecting him for some time.
Now that I hope to have exposed the predictable nature of Blackwater Val to you, let me explain why you should read it. Because it is a book I enjoyed a lot. First of all, William Gorman's two most apparent influences are two writers I love: Stephen King and William Peter Blatty. Blackwater Val is very much a character-driven novel and the exposition scenes are subtle and complex. There is this scene I really liked where Richard plays Led Zeppelin's record Houses of the Holy, which Gorman uses as a segue to talk about his wife Michelle, who passed away. It's a beautiful and elegiac scene born out of a situation that would've been cliché in the hands of a lesser novelist.
There's also a B side to Blackwater Val. The Kingesque profound and humane exposition is great in itself, but it doesn't really resonate until put in perspective with what's going on in the valley. William Gorman portrays evil like a dislocated simulacrum of reality. The surreal scenes emerging from the enslaved Blackwater Valley reminded me of the timeless terror of William Peter Blatty's Legion and even during certain scenes of the apocalyptic version of Rockwell's America in Soundgarden's video Black Hole Sun. Both sides of Blackwater Val's narrative are heavy and dark, but when dialoguing together they become something greater than themselves. It's a question of rhythm, a subtle (and classic) nuance William Gorman understands and applies very well.
The first half of Blackwater Val is extremely satisfying. The second part a bit less because the road is a little obvious, but what I'm going to remember from this novel is the thick and oppressive atmosphere. William Gorman's prose is heavy and luxuriant, yet rewarding like a delicious Thanksgiving dinner. That's a good allegory, actually. There's turkey on the menu every years on Thanksgiving, but are you really tired of it? Of course not! So, are you tired of classic horror novels with strong Gothic influences? Of course you aren't! Blackwater Val doesn't shine by its originality, it shines by its execution. Not the kind of novel I would read every week, but I'm glad I've read William Gorman's and not another.