Most longer fiction occasionally pauses in the presentation of its action to summarize what has gone before, thereby refreshing readers’ memories as to the narrative’s previous events. Journey to the West (published in the West as Monkey), The Song of Roland, and even Hamlet and other Shakespearean plays use this technique. In the days of ancient Greek dramas, the chorus reminded audiences of what had happened in the previous parts of the play, as did the protagonist and other characters, through monologues).
Horror novels are no exception. Their authors also pause from time to time to remind their readers of what they’ve read. Occasionally, such summaries can be used to misdirect the reader, suggesting that a plot is leading toward a particular denouement (or catastrophe, if the story is to be a tragedy) rather than the one in which it actually will be resolved.
On page 210 of his 386-page page-turner, The Vanishing, Bentley Little takes time out to remind his reader, through dialogue between two newspaper reporters, as to what is occurring, with increasing frequency, throughout the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area:
Wilson swallowed. “I suppose. . . we have a California-based phenomenon that causes heretofore sane and sensible individuals to go on murderous killing sprees and/or commit suicide in unusually violent ways. It’s accompanied by unusual plant growth and primarily affects the wealthy. . . . And it’s been occurring off and on for well over a century.”
(The plot sounds somewhat like M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening, but, trust me, Little’s novel is way better than Shyamalan’s movie [although it’s certainly not the author’s best work]).
Little’s summary suggests that whatever the hell is going on in The Vanishing has something to do with “unusual plant growth,” which, elsewhere (on page 124, to be exact), he describes in generally malevolent terms:
His gaze moved on to the surrounding grounds. The damn place was overgrown with vegetation. This was the fourth landscaping service he’d hired just this year and it looked like he’d have to find yet another one. He’d explained to Gary Martinez, the owner of the business, how he wanted the property maintained, but either he hadn’t properly communicated with his employees or the landscapers who worked for him were incompetent. Whatever the reason, the area around the house looked like
hell. . . .
Does the “phenomenon” really have anything to do with these plants, though, or does Little only want his story’s readers to assume that it does? In other words, is Little purposely misleading his readers so that, in the end, he can switch directions, surprising his fans? I don’t know, because I haven’t read the entire novel yet. However, Little has led me to believe that there may be such a connection. Either there is one, or he’s purposely misleading me through misdirection.
Time will tell.