Will Haunt You by Brian Kirk
Publisher: Flame Tree Press | Release Date: March 14, 2019 | Pages: 288 pages
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Aging rocker, Jesse, has a bit of a problem. A mysterious radio broadcast fills his ears moments before his car crashes, and he finds himself fleeing into the nearby woods, chased by identical twins and strange creatures. It’s a lousy way to end a night that should have been spent celebrating the final performance of his band, Rising Dead. A recovering alcoholic, he should have been sipping seltzer and getting home early to his wife and son. Instead, he finds himself ensnared in a conspiracy far beyond his understanding, targeted for reasons he’ll never know. All because he read a stupid book.
Brian Kirk’s Will Haunt You is told entirely from Jesse’s first-person point-of-view, and readers will no doubt find themselves just as mystified and confused by the perilous, bizarre situations Jesse is confronted with. Jesse, of course, has no idea what the hell is happening, or why, but we’re in this together, our knowledge equally, and frustratingly, limited.
Once things kick off and we’re plunged into the thick of things, Will Haunt You is positively terrifying, and Kirk delivers what may be some of the best horror writing of the year thus far. The atmosphere induces an instinctual dread, coupled with the sheer craziness of the situation we’re launched into. It’s a chaotic and confounding assault on the senses. We don’t know what is happening, let alone what could happen next. Just like Jesse, readers are denied any sort of information or hints as to why these things are occurring or who is responsible, and it’s legitimately scary stuff. The total denial of information is wholly unsteadying. Almost immediately, the rug is pulled out from under us and we’re forced to run headlong into the dark, completely ignorant of what’s out there. Kirk’s writing is highly effective and he makes Jesse’s nightmare ours, whether we want it or not.
I can’t help but compare Will Haunt You to the David Fincher film, The Game, with Michael Douglas. There’s a measure of alternate reality gaming-cum-plot, although Will Haunt You is far more conspiracy driven. It also breaks the fourth wall on occasion. Jesse is fully aware that we are reading his story and that Will Haunt You is, literally, his story. He’s written this book as a warning, but the fact that you’re reading it at all means it’s already too late. They’re watching you, and you’re next!
How well these disruptions in the narrative work will vary by reader. It’s simply a matter of how willing you are to suspend your disbelief and play along, as it were. Personally, I found these moments of direct communication to be a bit clunky, and when they first occurred I found them to be the equivalent of an ineffective jump scare. It just didn’t work for me, and I’m not really a fan of this technique to begin with. I’m also not able to suspend my levels of disbelief long enough to take Jesse at his word. Rather than taking me deeper into the story and its alternate reality, it did the opposite, reminding me that I am just reading a book. Granted, it’s at least a book that is otherwise skillfully told and highly engaging. I would have much preferred to know more about the book Jesse read that dragged him into this whole affair, but instead that particular text is a barely discussed MacGuffin. We don’t get to know much about the book Jesse read, other than it’s a commercially, widely available read that anybody could purchase. Will Haunt You, itself, physically, takes on the role of plot device, becoming both object and subject, with frequent warnings aimed at the reader. It’s an interesting experiment, and I have to applaud Kirk for attempting something different, even if these ultimately minor elements didn’t fully work for me.
I also have to give Kirk credit for making Jesse a tragically flawed monster in his own right. Jesse is an alcoholic, a liar, and a cheater, but he’s also trying to redeem himself, even if he doesn’t particularly want or value that redemption. Readers who need a likable protagonist will find that Jesse falls well short of the mark, often and repeatedly. Reading Jesse’s story is a study in conflict, vacillating between wanting to see him punished for his various misdeeds, but also rooting for him to find some degree of answers just so you know what the hell is going on. Those answers, though, don’t come cheaply or easily…for anybody.
Will Haunt You is a consistently engaging meta narrative, even if its experimental form does take a few minor stumbles on those rare occasions when the story’s artificiality attempts to assert itself upon our own reality. This is ultimately a minor quibble. Taken on the whole, Kirk’s story is brutally, oftentimes maddeningly, engaging and presents some of the best, and most sustained, WTF?! sequences in recent memory.