Author: Dan Simmons
Brilliance Audio / 9 hours 56 minutes / 8 July 2008
John Saul is an author listeners can count on for a chill, but the creep factor hits a new high in Perfect Nightmare. Saul has tapped into the current out-of-control increase in abductions and ratcheted up the tension to an almost unbearable degree. He has taken the things most of us fear the most and created a villain so sick that his audience may get the uncomfortable feeling that their skin is trying to crawl right off the top of its head. No woman of any age or parent is going to be able to kick back and relax with this novel; the scares come too fast and too close to home to allow your gooseflesh to smooth out for very long.
Pity poor Lindsay Marshall. A rich girl who just found out her carefree high school years are about to hit a major obstactle in the form of a move from suburbia to the Big Apple. Though she comes across as just a touch whiney (thanks to a superb vocal performance by Breck) perhaps it’s because she reminds us a little much of how we were at that age. When this attitiude causes the adults around her to discount her feelings of being watched and threatened it is impossible not to empathise with the young girl. Who hasn’t had the experience of not being taken seriously? Unfortunately, this is one situation where such doubts could well prove fatal.
It is the very human thoughts and emotions of the characters that give this novel its chilling impact. Lindsay’s father, the heartbroken Patrick Shields, even the killer — all have flaws, from glaring to subtle, that make them more real and fully fleshed-out than some of the other psychological suspense casts that clutter the shelves of bookstores across the country. These are people we can easily imagine running into, even offering help to in distress. listeners don’t have the comforting distance that allows for an easier, safer read. The horrible things happening within the pages of Perfect Nightmare couldhappen to any of us. And that is scary, indeed.
Frights are not the only thing awaiting listeners in Saul’s novel: the sheer sickness of the deranged killer is the kind that makes a long, scalding shower seem like an excellent idea, but still not enough to wash off the touch of perversion oozing from his every pore. And Saul is not shy about detailing just exactly what is so disturbing about paraphilias. Some scenes are so unsettling it may seem like a good idea to hit the Pause button — that’s possible in fiction; too bad real life isn’t like that. There have been far too many examples lately to let us forget that for even an instant.
Perhaps that’s the real purpose of dark realism: not to give us a good scare, but a very, very bad one. Perfect Nightmare delivers on that level and leaves us with an idea of our own vulnerability. Pretty strong stuff for such a small package, eh?