Some believe Bedford, Maine, is cursed. Its bloody past, endless rain, and the decay of its downtown portend a hopeless future. With the death of its paper mill, Bedford's unemployed residents soon find themselves with far too much time to dwell on thoughts of Susan Marley. Once the local beauty, she's now the local whore. Silently prowling the muddy streets, she watches eerily from the shadows, waiting for . . . something. And haunting the sleep of everyone in town with monstrous visions of violence and horror.
Those who are able will leave Bedford before the darkness fully ascends. But those who are trapped here-from Susan Marley's long-suffering mother and younger sister to her guilt-ridden, alcoholic ex-lover to the destitute and faithless with nowhere else to go-will soon know the fullest and most terrible meaning of nightmare.
Sarah grew up on Long Island, got her MFA in creative writing from Columbia University, her MS in environmental toxicology from NYU, and currently lives in Los Angeles with her family, house rabbit, hamster, and tarantula. True story.
Her next novel MOM'S NIGHT OUT is due out from S&S in Spring, 2023.
Her previous works include Good Neighbors (S&S 2021), You Have the Prettiest Mask (Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, 2020), and Night Nurse (Best Horror of the Year, 2020).
She is also three-time Bram Stoker award winner for outstanding novel in 2007 - The Missing, outstanding short story in 2008 - The Lost, and outstanding novel in 2009 - Audrey's Door.
Back in Horror's heyday, the masters (Straub, King, et al.) would crank out 500 to 800 page apocalyptic tomes, usually set in some small town filled with secrets, that never seemed to end. At the end of these novels, everything would blow up. I was never a huge fan, not because I didn't like horror (I love it), but because for me, horror works best with a tighter, smaller focus, with an emphasis on atmosphere (I'm a Ramsey Campbell fan). Give me dread over explosions any day. Langan's Keeper is from the "tome" era. To its credit, at 380 pages, it is shorter, but around page 260 or so, I was horrified that I had a hundred pages more to go. A character I couldn't stand wasn't dead yet (squeeze harder Susan!), a giant spider had showed up out of nowhere, and it just kept raining. (Actually, I liked the steady use of rain as a mood establishing device. For some reason I was reminded of Stewart O'nan's masterpiece The Night Country. Must be that Jamie Lee Curtis time of year.) Another problem for me was that I never bought into the core cause of the horror, so to some extent, from early on, I felt I was on a long march.
On the other hand, Langan can write. She creates believable characters (I really liked Liz), though sometimes there were conversations that just went on and on without really adding momentum to the story. Langan also has, like King, a good eye for things contemporary. The teens in the Keeper are modern day versions of King's 70s kids. The music, the clothes, the talk, all seemed right to me. But hey, it's a first novel, so ignore the novel's glowing heavy weight blurbs and take it for what it is. The Keeper does have some effective moments, and to my mind is much closer to real horror than another heavily touted new writer, Cherie Priest. This may seem like an overly critical review, but in part this is due to the promise I see with this writer. She seems enthusiastic about the genre, and contemporary horror needs new blood.
[Note: I think Langan's next book, The Missing, is much better. If you like Horror, definitely check it out.]
THE KEEPER was my first read by Sarah Langan and it also happens to have a sequel that I now NEED immediately. This one is listed mostly as a thriller, but y’all, this is horror. HORROR. We have a small town with a metric ton of secrets, people with major issues, and some of the grossest/creepiest scenes I’ve read in awhile. Langan definitely doesn’t shy away from anything, and I am here for it. If I ever see a Susan, I’m out. All the way out.
I ended up going with a 4 for this. I loved my time with the characters and there were only a few parts where I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. I’ll be reading the sequel as soon as I can. Langan also has a new book coming this year and I cannot wait to get my hands on it.
I don't know. The story seemed good, the characters were well developed, but it just went no where and the author, in her freshman attempt does manage to create a certain tension but the transitions are way too unbelievable in a book where on one hand the supernatural is subtle and on the other it attempts to be grandiose. Oh, and the ending completely falls apart. I managed to finish it but it was a difficult task.
The town of Bedford, Maine, is slowly decaying. Bedford only has one major industry in the town and that is the paper mill. The mill pollutes, the air and poisons the water. The workers have to breath in the sulfur from the mill and it is slowly kill them. The town runs into some rough economics times and some of the workers are let go. In the end, the mill finally closes for good and town is dying a slow death. The town is concerned about Susan Marley, some folks thinks that she is a witch. Susan haunted the residents in their own dreams. All of a sudden, Susan stops talking, for no reason at all. Susan is in her twenty's and turning tricks, so that she can eat. Susan's sister Liz, is in high school and can't wait to leave this nightmare of a town. Liz, is going to college and she is never going to look back at this part of her life. Paul Martin, is a high school teacher and is also an alcoholic. He often goes to see Susan, to seek comfort from his very depressing wife. One night Susan is accidently killed. Terrible things begin to happen in this cursed town. Liz is terrified of her zombie like sister. Liz's, boyfriend Bobby, tries to help her with the fear of the unknown but is not very successful. Those who can't leave the town before the darkness takes over the city, are stuck there forever. Soon they will learn the most horrific nightmare of all. This was not bad for the author's first book. The story had a few rough spots but overall it was good. There is a sequel to this book, that I might checkout.
I read this novel as part of my quest for the best horror novels of the 21st century. Sarah Langan's name kept coming up. Each of her novels appeared, so I decided to start with her first, since there's some indication of a sequence. And I'm glad I did.
On the surface The Keeper looks like a familiar horror trope: a town to be destroyed by dark forces. (Think Peter Straub's Floating Dragon for one example) That kept my expectations down, especially as the book appeared in 2006. I was pleasantly surprised to see Langan offer a fresh take on this, offering a genuinely powerful horror novel.
Let me offer some observations before getting into spoiler territory.
The Keeper takes place in the Maine town of Bedford, a mill town having fallen on hard times. This is an important context for American horror. First, it's a form of rust belt Gothic in microcosm, especially as the mill's role becomes environmentally and historically vital. Second, it means working-class horror, still an unusual (and welcome) sub genre. The epigraph from Bruce Springsteen signals this class intent.
Langan populates the town with well-drawn characters. The horror staple of short-lived victim (the literary equivalent of gaming's NPC) is done nicely, but the main characters really shine. They are the Marley family, mother Mary plus daughters Susan and Liz. The Keeper is really their story.
That makes this a very gynocentric novel. It's mostly about women and their relationships, the latter often with each other.
At the same time all of the characters - yes, every one - are sad, sad people. Each person is heartbroken and/or defeated, ground down or self-deluded. The Keeper is mournful, almost elegiac in its tone and content. It is not cruel; Langan pays careful, indulgent, sometimes loving attention to these people. Some are tragic, while a few generate their fates on their own. One character redeems himself, but only though a futile death. There are only two villains, really, and neither receives much word count. Again, this is a novel about people in pain.
There is a terrible, monstrous force, of course, that brings about Bedford's doom. This is somewhat original. Now we must raise the spoiler shields before proceeding.
So this is terrific for a first novel. There are some weaknesses. Some of it is repetitive - too many scenes of Susan's blue eyes, Lisa ranting at her boyfriend, Paul wanting a drink. The plot at the hear of the Marleys' house is a bit oversold, especially in these post-Jerry Springer days (it's very well described, though).
That said, I recommend The Keeper to any horror reader, and look forward to reading Langan's next books.
I read this year's ago, probably 2008 or 2009. I liked it, but I preferred her spooky, Audrey's Door and the second in this series The Missing. I'd like to reread all three and see if I get a different take on them.:)
This book is a hard one to describe. It's set entirely in a small city called Bedford, Maine. Its inhabitants are mostly lower middle class, small town people. They drink, they gossip, they work. Recently their main source of income, the paper mill, was shut down, leaving many of them jobless and with very little to do. Most leave, but some stay. Haunting the town is Susan Marley, a clearly crazy girl who, quite frankly, creeps everyone out. Roughly halfway through the book, Susan dies. Then, she comes back. She brings with her all the dead secrets the town has buried in the past. From there, the town slowly descends into a dark pit of madness.
The dialogue in this book is very good, though not perfect. For the most part, I wasn't jarred out of the story by awkward dialogue, but occasionally things felt forced and perhaps written in just to satisfy some desire on the author's part.
Things do not progress quickly and nothing big really happens until about 3/4 of the way through. A lot of it is slow, creeping plot development. To be honest about my personal preferences, I would have liked a different ending. This is not to say that it was a bad ending, or that it was written poorly. I just would have liked to see the author take it a different direction.
Honestly, I have no complaints about Langan's writing. She has some really great imagery, knows how to give give each character his or her own flavor. She kept up the creepy, subtly disturbing ambiance throughout the whole book. There are several scenes that are just plain unsettling and she does a really fantastic job of keeping the spider-somewhere-in-your-bed discomfort level. It's never outright threatening, but you can't help but feel rather squicked.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
My first book of the year turned out to be entirely unplanned--an impulse purchase at Albertson's when I went down there yesterday to pick up various staples. The Keeper is apparently a debut horror/suspense novel, and the blurb made it sound halfway interesting, so I figured what the hell.
There are a lot of oft-used tropes in this book: the run-down New England town, the creepy abandoned locale where nobody wants to go, the townsfolk full of secrets and in many ways just not right, the crazy young woman who's wandering around the place and spooking everybody right out. But I'll say this for the book; it used these tropes in pretty decent ways, and at the end in ways I actually didn't expect. A couple of characters who start off fairly screwed up as part of the backstory actually get chances to redeem themselves, which was a bit of a refreshing switch for a horror novel. There were a few bits that dragged, most notably portions of long dialogue, but I think one can easily chalk these up to rough spots of style that Langan may well improve as she gets a few more novels under her belt.
All in all, not a half-bad little read. Three stars.
I do not believe I've ever read a horror novel that was so directionless and dull. Uninteresting characters doing pointless things resulting in an indifferent plot. If the author wasn't such a good writer I would have rated this one star. But she appears to have some promise even in this unimpressive debut. So I'll hover at two and hope she does better in the future.
It's the time of year I turn to more horror novels. The Keeper is a good novel, but a bit of a slow burn, leaning to more mood piece than funhouse horror. It's a story told mainly through backstories and scenery building. Like going to a play and watching the set designers working instead of the actors carrying the story. That doesn't make it bad thing. I did like the book and I appreciated the idea of a town haunted by its own sins and failures. I've never lived in a factory town, but my grandparents did and their stories have stuck with me. Bedford is a factory town that has died. It's residents are haunted by the death of its factory and the brutalization of a young woman who lived there.
Having read Langan's second book (The Missing), I picked this book up soon after. After a few pages of reading I realised that I'd started the books backward & that this book was supposed to come before it. By the time I finished this book I was slightly glad that I'd read this one first. I do have to say that I prefer this book over the second one.
The book follows two sisters, the dreamy eyed Susan who wanders the town & frightens all of it's inhabitants as well as terminally depressed Liz, who is barely tolerated by her classmates & never quite believes that her boyfriend really loves her. After Susan dies, the town should rest a little easier & Liz should be able to move forward now that she's not "the sister of that witch", but unfortunately Susan's death was just the beginning & buried secrets come to the surface as torrential rains & unearthly terror spreads over the town.
I really liked this book. There were several parts that were hard to read, mostly because they went over things that were pretty horrifying. (The part I'm thinking of is when the secret between the sisters is revealed.) I do like the ending & in a way, I'm glad I read this one last- it's far better. I couldn't entirely get into the characters as far as likability, but I think that if I liked the characters I probably wouldn't have liked the book as much. A lot of the book's spark hinges on the fact that the main characters AREN'T people you want to like or befriend, yet you hope that they make it out of the book for the better. There was one part of the book that didn't entirely connect with the rest of the book (when Liz went out to the mill & got chased), but I figure that's sort of a tie-in to the next book.
Rain and zombies come to a small town in Maine. Scary stuff. But why do things like this always happen in Maine? I tell you what... I read this book while on vacation in Utah. Someone should write a horror novel about a small town in that state. Snow and zombies in Park City. That would really be scary.
I've read two of Langan's books--Audrey's Door and The Missing--and thought they were excellent. I just couldn't get into The Keeper. There was not one character that I felt was genuine, and I hated them all. The characters are two-dimensional, and even the town drunk and dedicated sheriff couldn't make me care for them.
This is my second Langan read, after Audrey's Door, and I do think Langan's stories have a particular flavor. Troubled young women struggling with mental illness are featured in both. Both books are quite dark and can be difficult to read at times. There are definitely moments in both of them that are gut-wrenchingly sad. But Langan writes in a readable style that keeps me going throughout no matter what. She shines at character development. People in her books are very realistic and many times, sympathetic. She will be an auto-buy author from now on.
You know the general idea from goodreads already, that this book centers on a small town called Bedford and a girl named Susan Marley. Susan was born different. Something about her attracted the darkness of others, and she could hear their worst nightmares. This would drive anyone mad, and she becomes the tragic figure of the 'town crazy'.
What happens during the course of the story makes Susan both horrifying and sympathetic to the reader, a great combo. Universally feared and hated, even by her own family, only friend to speak of is a drunken disgrace who takes advantage of her sexually. Her character kind of reminds me of Kirie and Reika from Fatal Frame, for you gamers out there. Langan really builds the tension during the first half, and unleashes hell for the second. I could picture the happenings quite vividly, and in a few parts even wished this could be a movie. Not that I think the feeling could be captured too well that way.
The ending is just what I wanted out of this novel. No "everything will be ok" kind of crap some horror novels like to wrap up with. It was kind of abrupt though, so I am going to have to read The Missing soon and see if anything from The Keeper is further mentioned.
Have I ever told you I hate stupid endings? In case you missed it previously - I hate stupid cliffhanging endings. And in this case, I'm not even sure I want to read the next one. I felt like I was in the middle of an LSD high through much of this book. Many, if not all, of the characters were very unlikable. The only thing I learned is if you died in this small town, you may not necessarily stay dead. And all dreams are bad.
Saw this on a list for best horror of 21st century. While I found it to be well-written (only reason I’m giving it 3) it was awfully repetitive in places (blue eyes, she had blue eyes, guys, Susan’s eyes were blue). I also felt like the link between the “ghosts of the town” and Susan’s “weirdness” wasn’t developed enough for me. I like small towns with deep, dark secrets and a past but the supernatural aspects could have used a little refining.
I'm writing this after having finished it in a single sitting; yes: it's late - and yes: it was worth it. This is an excellent horror tale, with mystery that made me want to keep reading, and weird and terrible stuff that actually made me feel scared, at times. I enjoyed every moment of reading it.
Christopher: not a bad try, though I found myself wishing you'd resolved to which extent we, the reader(s) of your argument, were to take the supernatural stuff "seriously" and establishable or strictly as allegory. As it was, despite your obvious commitment to the material itself, your stance felt conveniently evasive and, I'm afraid, somewhat wishy-washy.
Again, not to sound unkind, but it's a question of, simply, biting off what you know you can chew: neither argument is "truer" in this sense — at least intrinsically; either is fair game, as a position to take — but the problems therein self-determine what you can "establish." Feel free to experiment, but don't flip-flop: if you sense you're not on solid ground, it's for you to determine why not, and what would work,instead, as a "makeable" argument, on a point-by-point basis.
And, as I've noted previously, your skills can, as here, work in your disfavor: your obvious affinity for addressing the reader directly — more Brechtian than Entertainment Weekly, and I'm not just saying that to be kind — really bristle in the context of a measured, academic work. Keep it simple.
Johnson de Johnson Prof. Emeritus, Eng. Lang & Lit. Univ. of Chicago
Sarah Langan's bleak debut horror novel is, at its best, a story of two sisters--one, Susan Marley, who suffers all the worst torments of the world, and the other, Liz Marley, who walks a luckier path. "It should have been you," says Susan. And Liz can't escape the haunting words. She lives under the shadow of Susan's horrible fate.
I loved this core of the book, and I thought the oppressive atmosphere of Bedford, Maine was so well-drawn that it was enough to make me wonder if Langan was at all familiar with my own hometown (itself a small mill town in Maine).
What can I say? This book took me back.
I also appreciated how another sentiment in the novel--that no matter how terrible something is, there's always a little bit of good somewhere--was woven into the characters. Langan's characters are not nice or good, but she always puts in enough grace notes, enough light, to make them perhaps not seem all terrible. Liz's rich boyfriend Bobby Fulbright is a good example of how well Langan walks the line in her characterizations: is he a rich tool? Well, kind of. But also not. He's earnest and sweet and self-sacrificing at times. But never so much that he tips the scales to being a character you're going to really love. Langan doesn't sell out her characters' humanity, but she doesn't let them off the hook, either.
Her gift for characters drives a lot of the book, which is good, because overall there isn't a ton of plot. This is a sad walk down a rainy street in a cursed town. You know where you're going most of the time (home), and you know you've had your ups and downs with your companions and the people waiting for you, but nevertheless you're drawn onward, toward whatever end.
Brooding and punishing, but evocatively written--I didn't know it was part of a series, but I'm looking forward to reading the next book and seeing how Langan handles a sequel.
Bedford, Maine, is a town with one industry: the paper mill. It’s been poisoning the water and air for generations, and workers have all sorts of physical complaints from breathing sulfur and other toxic fumes, but if anyone thought about it, they’d know that the recent closing of the mill probably dooms their town.
But no one’s thinking about the mill and the town’s economy. Instead, they’re all focused on Susan Marley. She’s a silent, beautiful woman in her mid-20’s who lives in squalor, turning a trick now and then to stay supplied with Campbell’s tomato soup, which she eats straight out of the can. She appears nightly in just about everyone’s nightmares, making her a sort of literary ghost of Dickens’s Jacob Marley.
One of the people most haunted by Susan is her sister, Liz. Liz is in high school, and is planning to put Bedford behind her as soon as possible and never come back, beginning with going to college at the closest state university. As The Keeper opens, Liz is visiting her father’s grave to tell him just that when Susan shows up, dressed for a summer day even though it’s March — still winter in Maine — and physically attacks Liz. It should have been you, Susan tells her sister, silently, and Liz knows exactly what Susan is talking about, there, at her father’s grave.
Susan haunts the town. Her mother knew, at some level, what her husband was doing to her daughter, but chose not to see it. Paul Martin, a high school teacher who is a barely functional alcoholic, has used Susan’s body frequently as an escape from his depressed wife; but he also tries to take care of her from time to time, buying food, cleaning her apartment up a bit. Liz is physically threatened by Susan more than once, in the real world and in her dreams. Liz’s boyfriend, Bobby, tries to help Liz deal with her fear of her sister, but his own fear makes him impatient with Liz. The entire town is uneasy; there are arguments between parents and children, bar fights; people drink too much, people hallucinate, teenagers let themselves fall deep into the darkness of their own apocalyptic thoughts.
This stew of guilt and economic depression swirls into a muddy puddle in a March storm that begins as the novel opens, an unrelenting rain that continues for exactly one week every year. Langan immerses the reader in the grayness of the cold winter rain that feels as if the skies are weeping. That depression combined with the fear Susan inspires in everyone in town makes this an atmospheric, moody novel. As disaster approaches, the questions become: who will live? Who will die? And what will Susan do?
The Keeper is Langan’s first novel, and it bears some of the marks of a freshman effort: it is too long, and Langan occasionally lets the tension slack, with too much back story and too little action, even though everything ultimately circles back and comes together at the end. Langan has such a facility with language and mood, though, that it is easy to understand why The Keeper was nominated for a Stoker Award for best first novel in 2006.
Langan’s biography states she is currently studying for a doctorate in Environmental Health Science / Toxicology, an interest that allowed her to make the disaster in The Keeper believable. Between that degree and the MFA in creative writing she already holds, she is a formidable talent. My personal library already holds her other two novels, The Missing and Audrey’s Door, and you can bet I’ll be tackling them sooner rather than later, especially given that they both won Stoker Awards. And I’m delighted to read that she has a new novel in the works. This is a writer you’ll want to know.
After reading and enjoying Sarah Langan's most recent novel, Audrey's Door, I decided to try her first novel, The Keeper. I didn't like is as much as Audrey's Door, but it wasn't bad for a first novel.
There is something wrong with Susan Marley. The residents of the small town of Bedford, Maine cross the street when she approaches and blame her for all their problems; especially for the terrifying things that dominate their dreams. But it's not just Susan, the whole town is haunted thanks to its sinister past and dark secrets.
I've read a lot of comparisons of this novel to Stephen King. It seems every good horror novel is compared to King (especially ones that take place in Maine) and the author is heralded as "the next Stephen King." But The Keeper is probably the novel I have read that comes closest to King. Langan has descriptive prose (which can at times bog down the story), a few deep characters and TONS of one-dimensional characters who only make a brief appearance, and a dramatic ending where many people die, making up for the rest of the book being slow.
The plot of The Keeper was unique, involving a whole town being haunted instead of the usual house.
The pacing felt odd. For the most part the novel was slow, but for a few chapters an exciting plot development would take place and the pace would be fast, and then go back to being slow. It wasn't really a gradual build-up, it was more like short bursts of excitement and then back to being slow. About halfway through the book, a part titled "Resurrection", which should have been the most exciting part judging by the title, was actually the slowest part and it took me a long time to get through it. I almost gave up on the novel, but I'm glad I got through it because the finale was exciting, gory and had a frantic pace.
The atmosphere was dark and eerie. Imagining the town where every year it rains for seven days straight, gave me chills. And a brief scene when the main character is chased by a monster through a cemetery creeped me out. I was disappointed when the monster didn't make another appearance in the novel.
There are several characters in the novel, the main ones being very well-developed. The secondary characters mostly just provided the gory death scenes and made the town well-rounded and seem more real. Langan even had the ability to make Susan Marley, the supposed villain of the novel, likable.
The Keeper is an interesting novel despite its slow pace and if you can get through the boring parts, you'll be rewarded with the thrilling finale.
Story: Bedford,Maine is a ghost of its former self. Once a bustling mill town that era has finally came to an end whith the company who ran the mill moving on to greener pastures. With the last source of employment drying up, the town teeters on the brink of oblivion. In this limbo the mysterious Susan Marley wanders the town and the residents dreams. When anyone looks at her they seem to rember things that they would rather forget. Susan Marley has a secret and soon that secret will bring people face to face with the past they would rather forget and the secrets they would rather keep buried. ===========some spoilers======== This is book kind of reminds me of the silent hill series on the PS2(video game and movie).Both of these books deal with a girl that is able to take a whole town and throw it into a nether world where the dead walk again and nightmaris creatures creatures chase pepole around. Also both girls had deeply tramutizing pasts that made them retreat in their own heads. In this case Susan protecting Liz from her father. Also in this book, even though its not really said, I get the feeling that everybody died in the end either from the mill exploding or the toxic fumes in the air, which to me made no sense besides its a horror book. The build up to that point is great though. The characters, the buildup and the back story make for great reading and even though I was pretty sure of what/how the book was going to end about half way through it still made me want to keep reading to find out how it got there. I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a horror book that is not written by the numbers and to anyone who likes supernatural horror stories. This one kept me up to 3 a.m. to get to the ending. M.a.c