Paperback, 336 pages, $7.99
Review by Sheila Merritt
Reality TV is a fertile source for potentially horrific happenings. Consider: Backstabbings, desperate desires to be significant; to be the chosen or the last one standing. Metaphorical claws appear, people are stripped of social constraints, the end justifies the means. This isn’t a contest for Miss Congeniality, but rather for most resourceful, outrageous, and/or tenacious and determined. Given the inherent nasty nature lurking behind such shows, it is no wonder that Brian Keene chose to set his horror novel Castaways in the world of reality TV.
The contestants in a Survivor-like reality show are the usual mix of stock characters: The odious and imperious Brit, the seductive silicone enhanced babe with the body, the nice pretty girl (think Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island on a very repulsive island), the foul mouthed funny fellow, the African American female, the African American male, the gay guy, the militant with an agenda, and the nerd who possesses latent heroic capabilities. It is obvious from the beginning who will perish. Those characters, while not having a “V” for victim engraved on their foreheads, are blatantly not bound for glory; they are bound for gory, in excelsis. It is all too facile and predictable.
Keene takes the conventional route with plot as well as characters. The savage less than human inhabitants of the island have a taste for human flesh: To consume as food, and to be ravaged in rape. The rape aspect is depicted as a means for the dying tribe to procreate outside of its inbred gene pool. This gives the savages a biological social savvy seemingly far beyond their limited learning. It is interesting that Keene, in his “Author’s Note,” feels compelled to explain that not having rape, given the savages’ circumstances, would be perceived as a “cheat.” Arguably, the need to explain his reasons, smacks a bit of protesting too much. Compound this with a scene where the about to be raped nice pretty girl gets miffed when her attacker shows disdain for the size of her breasts: This certainly makes the author’s rationalization and motives seem suspect.
Other attempts at verbal humor, the laughing in the face of adversity, in the plotline seem derivative of Bruce Willis one liners in the Diehard series of films. While creating a fast paced narrative, Brian Keene races past some important elements that would have made Castaways a much stronger horror novel. An interesting and contemporary premise that is marred by clichéd characters and plot development, Castaways began its literary life as a short story. It initially appeared in an anthology dedicated to Richard Laymon, called Laymon’s Terms and was later adapted into a graphic novel. Perhaps the story was more successful in those formats.