April 2013, $12.99 trade paperback, $3.99 eBook
Reviewed by Michael R. Collings
One thing I much appreciate about horror as a ‘genre’ is its limitlessness. To be sure, there are usually creatures or monsters or things both gruesome and terrifying…but not always and not exclusively. Sometimes the horror is overt, but sometimes it is subtle, incremental, and entirely human.
Welcome (again, to those of you that have read Sunfall Manor) to Sunfall, Nebraska. It is an archetypal small-small town in an America stunned by economic downturn and stagnation. Nothing much ever changes in Sunfall; a few faces depart, a few new faces arrive, but on the whole everyone knows everyone…and everything about everyone.
Except for the deepest, darkest secrets.
At the beginning of Stealing Night, Jack’s few secrets are fairly obvious to everyone. He wants out of Sunfall, and he wants to take his niece, Nora, and his drug-addicted sister, Lily, with him. He wants to escape a thankless, make-work, two-days-a-week job polishing cars at the local used-car lot. He wants more for himself and his new ward than existing in a $200-a-month fleabag apartment. He wants a life.
When a former friend from high school suddenly appears, Jack’s life takes a decidedly—and deadly—new direction. Lee persuades him, indeed almost forces him, to “take a ride.” As the two careen down a rural roadway, Jack sees a set of headlights coming their way and, casting back to memories of accompanying his father on business trips, panics. Even as he recalls his father’s words—“Don’t be afraid…. They’re just stealing night, messing with the way you see things. Trust me, they’re not coming for us”—he understands that these lights are a threat.
These lights are coming for Jack. The lights, the oncoming car, a deer suddenly leaping onto the roadway, Lee’s mercurial temperament, and Jack’s own terror…all of them meet in an instant, and Jack’s life changes.
Now he truly has a secret, deeper and darker than any he could ever have imagined, and it threatens him, Nora, Lily, and everything he hoped to change.
Readers of Peter Giglio’s Sunfall Manor already know that terrible things happen in Sunfall. For those who have not yet visited the old house on the plains, the first few pages of Stealing Night demonstrate that truth clearly, through tone and atmosphere. Giglio has mastered a kind of world-weariness in his central character, something akin to the noir tone of gritty, grungy detective stories, and he manipulates it expertly in guiding Jack through crisis after crisis, forcing him to acknowledge to himself and to others the weight of the past. Having accepted responsibility for Nora, he must overcome his reluctance to be part of a family, his hatred of his father and his father’s fatal secret, his despair, and his ambivalence toward life in general and Sunfall in particular.
Giglio show us each stage in Jack’s development as he confronts obstacles and, ultimately, defeats them…although not without pain and torment both physical and mental. He has taken on not only a ward, but a burden of guilt that he must somehow accept and accommodate.
Fortunately, Jack is not alone. As Stealing Night, he discovers strength in placed he has not anticipated, in people he has virtually discarded as useless or helpless, and with their support, he moves toward a climax that surprises and satisfies.
Where is the horror? In the meticulously crafted landscape, in the details that bring Sunfall to life and demonstrate how it is, ultimately, inimical to everything Jack strives for. To defeat the darkness, he must also defeat his world.