Friday, April 9, 2010
Dawn by Kevin Brooks
There's no question that Kevin Brooks is a powerful writer. He's unafraid of taking chances, and he is relentless when writing about the darkness and squalor of the world his characters populate. His stories are brooding and violent, and feature angry or bewildered misfits with the odds stacked against them. Betrayals are par for the course, and no one comes to save you from your problems just in the nick of time. He's not for everyone, that's for sure. But for those who like that kind of unflinching stare into the heart of darkness, he's an excellent choice.
Dawn Bundy, the heroine of Brooks' latest novel, has big odds stacked against her. Her mother is an unemployed alcoholic who spends her days watching television, and her father disappeared two years previously after raping her in an orgy of alcohol and religious frenzy (while singing hymns about the blood of the lamb). Dawn has no friends and struggles with repressed memories and deep feelings of abandonment. Her closest companions are her two dogs, Jesus and Mary, named after the notoriously melancholy and violent band Jesus and Mary Chain, to which Dawn listens incessantly. She also loves and feels protective of her barely-functional mother. She blames a local Christian sect for taking her father away from her, and fantasizes about killing God, although as she sadly admits early on, "there is no God. He doesn't exist. Which is why it's going to be kind of difficult to kill him."
Into this bleak world Brooks throws two schoolmates who enter Dawn's life with suspicious agendas and a dangerous mobster just out of jail who believes the family owes him money. Dawn is in way over her head, and we expect to see her situation spiral disasterously out of control, which it does. But not at all in the way that I thought it would.
And then, miraculously, Brooks leaves Dawn at the end in a state of inner grace. Love, forgiveness and healing prove to be within her reach, and they transform her. It's not a happy ending, exactly, but at least she has the inner resources to sustain herself as she faces her difficult situation. And how incredible is that, that Brooks can make us feel that Dawn has somehow saved herself even as her world falls apart? It's a testament to his ability to create literature that is soulful and unnerving at the same time.