1. People don’t pay any attention to what’s going on around them.
This is a general theme in all of his books, with the townsfolk taking forever to figure out that something is not quite right in their little burgh. Sure, we always have one character who clues in fairly early, but this person is always regarded with suspicion and non-validation. In fact, the townsfolk will make every effort to shame-drench this person and their wild imagination if they don’t shut up.
Everyone else goes on about their day, ignoring the obvious warning signs. (A mutilated corpse was found at Dairy Queen! The kindergarten class has an odd fondness for meat cleavers! The mailman is levitating!) Instead, they just continue watching “Ellen” or preparing for the bake sale at the youth center, which will turn out to be the scene of a horrific slaughter-fest in the final chapters. (Don’t go near the raisin pie!)
2. When confronted with a potential crisis, most people choke.
The few people who DO manage to connect the dots then go into total responsive failure. Rather than immediately packing up the kids and heading to a larger town where John Saul characters don’t usually live, they instead sit around in their unsafe domiciles and talk about what they might need to do. This accomplishes nothing, of course, other than allowing time for the night creatures to find weapons of mass destruction and practice killing lesser characters.
3. People sure sleep a lot.
When the clueless and non-evacuating people get done talking (usually over coffee, because John Saul characters always have endless addictions to go with their inability to concentrate on the lethal possibilities around them), they then all head off to bed, hoping that “things will be better in the morning”.
Things are never better in the morning. In fact, if you even live to see the morning, you’re already on the bonus plan. (Surviving until daylight also means, per the Saul handbook, that you have a dark secret in your past. You will have to spill this tea at some plot-convenient point in the story arc, so be prepared for a lengthy monologue in a later scene. Right when we’re at the logic breaking-point, you will suddenly remember that the unnamed killer’s eyes look just like Aunt Sarah’s did before she went insane in 1947 and used a blowtorch to kill that irksome cheerleader with the two first names and a penchant for doing high-kicks at all the wrong times.)
Besides, we all know that most of the gruesome mayhem occurs at night, so don’t slack off and try to sleep. Death and destruction in the pretty sunshine is just not as much fun. It is much more emotionally effective for the psychotic farmhand to be running after you at midnight, waving a pitchfork and confusing you with his sadistic uncle who was overly fond of the livestock. When it’s dark, you have a much better chance of tripping over a pocket of air in the evil cornfield, thus allowing John Saul to use his superlative narrative skills as you are dismembered, clutching the very locket that could have saved you if you’d only known how to open it.
4. People are ill-prepared for dangerous situations.
Okay, these characters are already reality-challenged by not leaving town the very second the first odd death takes place, so we know we don’t have the sharpest tools in the shed. But still, why would you sneak into the ancient church, hoping to find out more about the demonic rituals you suspect are taking place, without taking a gun or letting people know what’s on your social calendar? Why would you go back to the used-car lot, where your best friend Franny was impaled on the colonial-era flagpole, and do so whilst riding your stupid bicycle with the chain that always breaks?
And why in the world would you march into the blackness of something called Rotted Death Cave, without taking a flashlight, rope, medical supplies, an oxygen tank, the jaws of life, and several locals who have already been in the cave before and/or have appeared in other John Saul books and can point out where the monsters dwell. But no, these idiots go clattering to their deaths with nothing but a tube top and some flip-flops.
5. People don’t listen.
If a haggard woman you’ve never met approaches you in the grocery store, warning of the dangers to be found at Hangman’s Bluff, listen to her. If you answer the phone and a mysterious voice tells you not to order the hamburger surprise at the local diner tonight, then don’t. In fact, eat in. If the town drunk, who never talks to anybody, suddenly hands you a garlic necklace, then wear it. See how this works? Take notes, stay alive, and hope there’s a sequel.
6. Authority figures should never be trusted.
There’s always a police officer, lawyer or crossing guard in town that is working for the dark side. Keep this in mind. If these shady folks were really looking out for your best interests, they would have captured the killer in the first few chapters and this would be a book about picnics and spiritual growth. It’s not. Be prepared.
7. Never trust a small town with a cute name.
Do not move to places like “Happy Meadow” or “Clear-Skin Cove”. Nothing good can come of this relocation, no matter how many relatives you have there or even if it’s the place you grew up. And by no means should you select a town with a population under 5,000. That’s total madness. Suck it up and move somewhere named “Insanity Gulch”. At least you’ll know what to expect, and you won’t waste time trusting neighbors that only want to eviscerate you.
8. Avoid families with money.
It’s a known fact that rich people are serial killers. They’ve got too much time on their hands, and they will eventually turn to the satanic arts out of sheer boredom. And if the town is named after their family? Even worse. Never speak to these people. Make friends with the vagrants on the wrong side of the tracks, because they can’t afford to pay off the sheriff or plant evidence. And when you have that inevitable affair with one of the rich sons, because you’re a tramp? Keep it purely physical, and make him leave the light on when you’re at the motel, so you can properly scan his body for that critical tattoo which identifies him as a gatekeeper of the Hell Mouth.
9. Children will disappoint you in the end.
And here we have another central John Saul theme: the angelic children with their pesky mental illnesses that lead to overtime in the coroner’s office. You should never turn your back on these little urchins, and by no means should you ever believe anything they say. They only want to kill you. Especially if they have blonde hair.
10. Happiness never lasts.
Although John Saul generally wraps up his stories by ending the main section of the book on a slightly positive note (even if most of the characters are dead or confined to mental asylums), he can’t help but add an epilogue. And these addendums are never fun. We always learn that the pain and torment is not over. The madman didn’t really die, the government conspiracy is still going on, the spirits of unfairly-treated victims are still pissed off, or the hostess is still making those appetizers that nobody wants.
But try and get some sleep. Things will be better in the morning…
Originally published in “The Sound and the Fury” on 05/22/10 and “Bonnywood Manor” on 01/14/14, revised and updated with extra flair for this post.
Story behind the photo: Um, I have a lot of John Saul books, so…
Categories: 10 Reasons Why