Ararat

It's never a good sign when I can call the big plot twist of a book after 40 pages. I had seen a lot of good reviews for Ararat and at first blush, it looked like it would tick all my reading boxes when it comes to adult thrillers/horror: stuck on a mountain, winter storm, ancient mystery, evil creature. That is tailor-made for me. Plus, comparisons to At the Mountains of Madness gave me hope that this would be a horror story with the punch of Lovecraft's original without all the wonky prose.

Alas. Any appeal that Ararat may have held was smothered by one-note characters, a very silly bad guy, and the general senselessness of the plot.

The cover is really cool, though.
That's it. Kinda false advertising, I guess.

*Warning: Spoilers ahead. Proceed at your own risk.*

(But please proceed!)




High on the slopes of Mount Ararat, in Turkey, a tremendous avalanche imperils the climbers that  attempt to scales its slopes, searching for Noah's Ark. Tradition holds that this was the resting place of the Ark when the Flood waters receded below the tops of the mountains. The falling snow reveals a cave in the side of the mountain--could this be it? The Ark? (Not the Ark of the Covenant; Indiana Jones already found that one and it's being cared for by Top Men)



Thankfully, a plucky and adventurous duo arrives, ready to upload their race up the mountain to discover the Ark straight to YouTube. Adam and Meryam are semi-famous as the adventure personalities behind Adam and Eve, the engaged couple who go on adventures all around the world and encourage people to live their dreams (if they have the money to do so, natch). Adam is stressed because of Meryam's inattention to planning the upcoming nuptials--almost as if she didn't want to marry him. But hey, now they're in Turkey and they've convinced their friend's uncle, who is a hateful chauvinist, to take them up the mountain ahead of all the other groups.

There is a mildly thrilling sequence where Adam and Meryam literally just climb straight up the side of the mountain in order to beat the team headed by an insufferable Italian academic. But when they reach the cave, they realize that's no cave ... it's a space worm!



No, really, it's the Ark. And inside is a malevolent presence. Maryam begins to vomit uncontrollably--a symptom of altitude sickness, or something else?



A few weeks later, a sooper sekret DARPA agent named Ben Walker arrives on site, along with a priest/linguist and a "neutral" U.N. observer. As soon as they enter the Ark, they are all troubled by a sense of wrongness, and Dr. Seong has a sort of fit.

None of this is related to the horned skeleton that Adam and Meryam disinterred, right? The big, scary one that was inside a giant pitch-sealed box inscribed with arcane symbols and vaguely Sumerian writing? Hmm, now why would you think that?


Why is it that people in horror novels have never, themselves, read horror novels? There are some pretty basic life rules that everyone should follow, but it becomes imperative to do so when you are inside a mysterious archaeological dig:


  1. Don't split up
  2. Don't open the box
  3. Don't read anything out loud if you don't know what it means
The plot gets really bogged down here with characters arguing about what they should do with the corpse, when the sane course of action, which is "Lock it the heck up and rebury it and get out and never, ever come back," is never even mentioned. Even when people start falling off the bloody mountain, Meryam, Adam, and Ben aren't really concerned. It's a tall mountain, after all, with lots of perilous snow. People could conceivably just walk off the edge, right?

Right?

Okay, so you're right, the evil thing definitely should not have been let out of the box, and now it's possessing members of the expedition, turning them into frenzied murderers. Father Cornelius figures out the language and identifies the best as some sort of evil Nephilim, offspring of a demon, that ... stowed away on the Ark with Noah and Family and then bad stuff happened. 

In the end, the demon kills everyone on the mountain except for Seong, Walker, and Meryam. Even Adam is dispatched with frightening rapidity for someone who was supposedly a main character. But don't worry--Meryam, who had revealed that she's dying of cancer--totally survives and is pregnant. Because of course she is. Of course she is. With a possible demon baby. 





Maybe as a short story, this would have worked. But the pacing is all over the place and the character development nonexistent. I hated every single character in this book and wished they would all fall off the mountain. Other reviewers have been comparing this to The Thing and that's completely erroneous. The Thing is a story artfully told, one that makes you care about these people at the bottom of the world. And also the dogs. I felt nothing but frustration for the characters in Ararat.

Golden missed many opportunities to delve deeper into his characters' beliefs. Meryam is an atheist who was raised Muslim, and Adam is Jewish. The narrative skimmed over their reactions in a relatively superficial manner. No one truly wrestled with the idea that this supernatural creature exists, and Noah did, in some shape or form, so was the flood real? Then again, these are the people who don't think that finding a horned skeleton is a bad sign.

As for the horror itself? It's predictable and has been done in other snowbound locales to much better effect. I predicted the ending from page 41, and that is not a good thing. Making Meryam's ultimate fate a horrendous one because she is (GASP!) pregnant reads as though the author's ultimate fear is being a woman and having a baby. I just sprained something reaching for that, but there's definitely a weirdly sexist vibe to the way everything pans out.

Not recommended. Read something else instead. For creepy, I highly recommend Cherie Priest's The Dead House. For snow, Into Thin Air is exceedingly scary, and it's a true story.




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