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Spotlight on: Keepers by Gary A. Braunbeck

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Keepers by Gary A. Braunbeck Gary A. Braunbeck, Keepers

Note: This "review" began as more of a rant, and even though I have made an attempt to soften the language (some of it rather foul) that appeared in the original, it still retains a rant-like feel. This is based on overly heightened expectations that were not met. You may (and probably will) have a different experience with this book.

After many attempts, I finally decided I was never going to finish author Gary Braunbeck's most acclaimed novel, In Silent Graves. In a compromise of sorts, I decided I would read the only other Braunbeck paperback on my shelf, Keepers. The experience was a fascinating combination of hugely disappointing and emotionally rewarding.

The main problem is that the story that carried the book for me was not the one described on the back cover. Keepers starts off with Gil Stewart, a long-suffering sad sack who has experienced more than his share of loss (if he's not a stand-in for Braunbeck, I'll eat my right shoe), and his unexpected run-in with a man in a bowler hat (who reminds Gil of Magritte's The Son of Man) and a couple of vicious dogs.

It also includes Gil's nephew Carson, a young man with Down Syndrome whose comic books talk to him ... and now want to talk to Gil. This story — discovering the significance of the man (later men) with the bowler hat and the dogs, and how Carson is somehow connected with them — will hereafter be known as the filler.

The important story (and the only reason to read Keepers) is threaded lightly throughout the first third, but really takes off in the middle third, and then it is almost completely forgotten in the final third in favor of the filler.

This marvelous story is the relationship between Gil and Beth, a girl (later woman) who is seven years Gil's senior, yet who recognizes Gil's inherent maturity. They become friends, then lovers, and go back and forth according to Beth's sexually misguided whims. It is written as though Beth was the love of Gil's life, and this is the most touchingly realistic tale of semi-requited love that I have ever read. If Braunbeck actually went through something like this, I both pity and envy him.

It is just too bad that this story could not successfully be sold as a "horror" novel, and that the filler had to be concocted around it, because the other two-thirds of the book are really uninspired — worse, they're boring; I skimmed the last 70 pages hoping for a glimmer — including an utterly awful ending that would probably seem ideal to someone like Gil (and presumably Braunbeck himself), but just reads like a load of depressive wish-fulfillment to me.

So, somehow Keepers manages to reinforce the reasons why Gary Braunbeck is such a terrific writer, and also the reasons why he should not try to gear his writing to the horror market. They don't really fit together well, and this book is a blinding example of that.

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