Forbidden Tomes: TO WALK THE NIGHT by WILLIAM SLOANE

It’s been quite some time since I published a Forbidden Tomes review, and I can think of no better way to revive the tradition than to discuss my latest cosmic read. This story is one of many that found new life last year, finding a place amongst authors like Charles Beaumont, Ray Russell and Thomas Ligotti. Yet it sets itself apart from those by creating a style that I find wholly unique. Our tome today is William Sloane’s quiet tale of monstrosity called TO WALK THE NIGHT. 

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The plot is straight out of Lovecraft – after finding their old professor burning to death under impossible circumstances, two college friends become involved in the professor’s enigmatic wife. When one falls in love with her, the other succumbs to unnamable fear, and unravels a truth too horrible to mention.

Lovecraft might have written this, but his version would have been drastically different from Sloane’s. The story is set when the narrator returns to his friend’s home to tell the man’s father the truth of his death. From the first sentences, we are instilled with a sense of tragedy, but also dread. Lovecraft’s stories have always been fairly emotionless, evoking nothing but fear. Sloane sets himself apart by infusing his terror with human sadness. It managed to draw me in from the first page, and when the fear came into play, I was already vulnerable.

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Sloane moves his plot along at a quiet, patient motion – most of the scenes are utterly mundane, but with this mystery dangling over us, they become uncomfortable. Those who want instantaneous monsters and tentacles need not look here. Our characters are the centerpiece of the story. But through masterful descriptions of landscape and memory, Sloane creates a sense of smallness that haunts them – and us – throughout the everyday interactions. He creates fear out of almost nothing, a lesson today’s writers have not yet learned.

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By the time we are ready for the revelation, set brilliantly in the vast desert of the Southwest, we already have guessed at most of the elements. Sloane still manages to surprise us by bringing back that tragedy. At its core, this becomes a story of loss, loneliness, and the inability to accept the ‘other.’ Like the best of horror, it is about outcasts. The cosmic notion of a vast, impenetrable universe only amplifies this sense of sadness. I was chilled by his story, but also felt heartache, and when horror can do that to me, I can’t help but love it. Sloane chooses small details to frighten the reader, but also to bring across that tragedy, and make it visceral.

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Due to its slow pace, it will not please everyone. But for those who can be patient and are willing to accept the human elements, there is a majorly entertaining read waiting for them. We must thank NYRB for re-releasing Sloane’s novels. This is a lost gift to horror fans, and a reminder of how much power the genre can hold.

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