A review of

The Town That Forgot
How to Breathe

by Kenneth J. Harvey

Central question: Can epic horror convey
social and economic insight, even as it scares our pants off?
Format: 471 pp., hardcover; Size: 6 1/2" x 9 1/2"; Price: $24.95; Publisher: St. Martin’s Press; Editor: Lynn Henry; Jacket design and illustration by: David Baldeosingh Rotstein; Text design: Ingrid Paulson; Oldest corpse washed from the sea: c. 1660, judging from sealskin fishing gear; Percentage of breathing-disorder fatalities formerly with the cod fishery: 100; Number of encounters with mermaids: 1; Representative sentence: “Without a gust of warning, chaos had blustered in on the wind, boiling the sea black in an unsteady count of minutes.”

In overview, Kenneth Harvey’s first American publication (following thirteen books in Canada) seems pure horror. A cranky and ingrown community named Bareneed suffers visitations from the dead, the corpses fresh even when centuries old, bobbing up out of the Newfoundland codfish lanes that used to provide the town’s income.

But then the eerie bleeds into the surreal as locals literally forget how to breathe. A few die, while others wind up on respirators, their eyes black and vacant. Authorities are mystified.

The trouble began when the cod fishery closed down a few years earlier and the community lost a piece of its soul, developing a need—a bare need—for “visions… manifested as a… coping mechanism.” But the secondhand vitality of conjuring spirits, in this town, must compete with the canned visions of the twenty-first century, the electronic storytelling of TV and the internet. Thus Harvey’s drama comes to embody a classic theme, the search for a locus of spirit in a world dominated by the machine. In this way, Town achieves more than hair-raising thrills.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

—John Domini

John Domini’s next book will be the novel Earthquake I.D. See www.johndomini.com.

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