J. Knight, Risen (Warner/iPublish, 2001)
[originally posted 26Nov2001]
Fifty pages into Risen, I was ready to throw it to the dustbunnies. But I kept going, and I’m glad I did. I think.
There’s nothing overly original here—the inhabitants of a small town in the middle of nowhere find, one morning, that the recently deceased are, in the words of a now-famous newscaster, returning to life. (No eating of the living this time, however.) The recently-deceased have one goal, to convert their still-living friends and neighbors to their own state of Risen-hood (thus the book’s title), thus making the town one big happy recently deceased family.
It’s a beautiful metaphor, and one that is simple enough to be used for any mindless process of conversion. Knight gives a number of strong implications (s/)he’s looking at organized religion, but it doesn’t take much stretching to put it into other contexts. There is a good deal to be said for the zombie-as-metaphor line, and all of it can be said about this book. There’s also enough scenes of sheer gross-out to keep the horror reader happy, especially once the ball gets rolling (which happens about seventy pages in). Knight also has a deft enough hand at plot twists, especially the wonderful ones where the reader knows more than the characters in the novel.
Where Risen falters is in Knight’s writing style. The book has been rather aggressively marketed (via email) as “if you like Stephen King…” Every avid reader knows that “if you like…” is second only to “in the tradition of…” for setting off warning bells. In this case, blatant comparisons to Stephen King only serve to highlight the differences (some subtle, some not so) that put Knight firmly in the pantheon of genre fiction writers. Most of them can be encapsulated in the statement that King regularly transcends genre with his writing ability, while Knight does not. This is not a bad thing in and of itself; genre writing is certainly capable of being good work, and it is (for the most part) in this case. Just don’t let the marketing campaign get to you.
In any case, I have digressed. There are a number of places where Knight’s style jars, small errors in judgment which add up over time. The one that sticks with me (I finished the book about a week ago) is Knight’s inability to gauge where to stop in drawing a simile for maximum effectiveness. If you say something’s like a diamond, let the reader draw the proper conclusions; no need to write out the ways in which the simile works. It’s not a big thing if it happens once or twice in the span of a novel, especially one that runs four hundred pages, but the repetition drives the point home. A good editor would be able to fix such problems with minimal effort.
It’s a good read if you’re a hardcore fan of the horror genre. Others should probably approach with caution. ** ½