Friday, March 21, 2014

A Name Like Abandon

Ghost towns.

here's a tumbleweed, enjoy

Ramshackle remnants of mankind's hubris and greed.  Creepy.  Derelict.  And a darned good setting for a horror novel.

Abandon by Blake Crouch revolves around a mining town/soon-to-be-ghost-town in southwest Colorado in the San Juans.  It's called Abandon, which, you know, if I were living there, I wouldn't be too happy with that choice of name.  Yeesh, a bunch of downers.  Anyway, the story opens in the early 1890s.  The mines are pretty much played out, and no one wants to trek up to 13,000 feet to go visit some shacks and a brick hotel.  The people of Abandon, CO know their town is dying, but they don't leave.  Until one day--Christmas Day, in fact--they decide to disappear without a trace instead.  Food left on the table.  Animals left to die.  No bodies, no bones, no nothing.  Abandon
Switch to the present day.  Abigail, a journalist living in NYC, goes out to Durango to cover a story and attempt to reunite with her estranged father, Lawrence.  Lawrence is also a professor and his specialty is the town of Abandon.  Lawrence, Abigail, and two guides (well, and two llamas) accompany a couple who are paranormal photographers up to the town of Abandon.  However, when they get there, Abigail realizes that they're not just there for the pictures.  It's all about the lost gold, baby.  Suddenly, she's caught in the middle of power plays between three different groups who all want the gold and will kill to get it.

I really, really, really wanted to love Abandon, but instead, I ended up just liking it.  For all of its potential, it wanders and meanders and tosses in extra characters who just muck up the works.  Plus, there were some factual things that just didn't sit right with me.  In addition to the main group of characters, there are the ex-military bad guys, plus a mysterious prisoner, plus a double-crosser, plus everyone in the 1893 storyline (a whole town full!). I think this would have been more successful had we had fewer characters to deal with.  Plus, the relationship mending subplot between Abigail and Lawrence really didn't cut it for me.  I would have been much happier had it been tossed.  

Abigail herself isn't exactly compelling, either.  It's her character who creates a lot of the implausibilities in the novel.  She's from NYC.  On like her second day out in Colorado, she embarks on a seventeen mile hike (or maybe it's 27--the novel never decides on which).  Yeah, she complains about being tired, but she doesn't show signs of altitude sickness or oxygen deprivation or anything.  I too live at sea level, and every year we go out to Colorado to hike (not usually in the San Juans, but in the eastern Rockies).  I'm pretty fit, I think, and the altitude still kills me.  Crouch has his characters running (literally) across mountain passes at 13,000 feet.  I'm getting altitude sickness just thinking about it.  Ugh.  Plus, they magically survive a lot of natural events that they really shouldn't.

Me, a few years ago, hiking in the Rockies. I kind of felt like death afterwards.

I much preferred the chapters set in 1893, which chronicle the last days of Abandon and which parallel the modern-day account (this parallel is actually quite well done).  The characters have more zip to them--Jess, the black widow bartender, is a great example.  So is Lena, the mute woman who plays piano at Jess' bar.  Everyone has his or her demons, and they're very well portrayed.  

Unfortunately, I read Pines before I read Abandon, and Pines is by far the better book.  It's tighter and a heck of a lot scarier.  However, Abandon certainly is not a bad book by any means.  I was engrossed in the action (even if I had to double-check who was doing what and was on what side when and where!) and I loved reading a book in a setting I'm familiar with (Silverton and Durango) and love.  Being the nerdy librarian that I am, I actually went to maps and started inputting radii based on the mileage given in the book to see where they could have gone from Silverton.  For example, Crouch mentions a Sawtooth Pass.  There's a Sawblade Mountain in the San Juans, but it's too far north (near Gunnison/Lake City) to be the right one--although the name certainly could have been inspiration.

I'll certainly read more by Crouch--he has a sure hand when it comes to the creep factor, and he's not afraid to be brutal with his characters--but I hope his other books have a more satisfying ending than this one did.

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