REVIEW SUMMARY: Part mainstream novel, part thriller, part social science fiction novel, but best at the latter.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A series of outbreaks of sudden, extreme violence grips the nation in fear and paranoia.
PROS: Wonderfully increasing feeling of suspense and paranoia; excellent depiction of societal behavior; characters you care about.
CONS: Insufficient reason given for the outbreaks of violence; interstitials of violence sometimes seemed aimed to shock rather than build the world.
BOTTOM LINE: The story shines when it sheds its mainstream pretense.
David Moody’s new book, Hater, simultaneously seems to be both mainstream novel, tense thriller and thought-provoking social science fiction. It’s told from the first-person perspective of Danny McCoyne, a husband and father of three, working a job he hates because he needs the money. Danny notices a few localized acts of violence which he (and the rest of the world) eventually realizes is increasing in frequency exponentially. These so called “Haters” attack violently without warning and without provocation. The attacks are also seemingly random, with victims including loved ones, friends, and strangers.
What’s the cause of this epidemic of violent outbreaks? The reason for them goes largely unexplained until the very end of the book, and even then, it’s not entirely clear. Because a specific explanation isn’t provided, the message, presumably, is that it doesn’t matter. (From a genre classification perspective, it sounds like it’s geared towards mainstream readers. Think of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, where the cause of the apocalypse is never quite defined.) While a cause may not matter in the strictest “Literary” sense, it would have answered the biggest question looming in the reader’s mind throughout the book.
Be that as it may, there was still a decent buildup of suspense during the first half of the book. Until that point, the story seemed about to succumb to path of clichéd and routine thriller. However, once the amount of violence reached a certain level of public awareness – enough that people began to feel genuine fear – the book could easily stand on its own as a fascinating examination of social behavior. Think about it: the Haters attack violently and without warning anyplace they happen to be. There’s no telling who will turn next: people become anti-social for fear of sparking an attack; people fear showing emotions for far of being marked a “Hater”; public paranoia is increasing; otherwise common outbursts of anger (like one poor soul who had his car booted by the police) are suddenly met with fear, cascading into extreme guilt by the aggressor, perhaps even horror that they are labeled as a Hater; people begin to suspect strangers, then even their own family members. This escalating feeling of paranoia increases dramatically until an unexpected (but inevitable) plot twist that takes the book in yet a whole new direction, one that sets up an interesting dichotomy within the human race.
For all of its widespread impact, Hater still reads like a very personal journal of events. Chalk that up to Moody’s snappy first-person narrative which zips along faster than a stranger can bash your skull in with a tack hammer. OK, that’s the book’s violence talking. Moody inserts violence-ridden interstitials to show the reader the suddenness and sheer violence of the attacks. While effective to a large degree, I often wondered if such tactics were simply meant to shock the reader instead of build the world. (That scalpel scene was over the top.) Although the book does a good job of making you care about the characters and positioning itself as a mainstream thriller, it’s when the book sheds its mainstream pretense that it really shines.
(Note: This book is being adapted to film by Guillermo del Toro, director of Pan’s Labyrinth. I’d be interested to see how he handles not only the violence, which is commonplace enough in film, but also the sf-nal implications of this new race of Haters.)