Kealan Patrick Burke
Cemetery Dance Publications
Bad Moon Books
If you took the moral quandaries about revenge, justice and violence against evil from Dennis Lehane’s Patrick Kenzie novels, spread it over the sprawling cast of a Stephen King thriller, and mixed it with the Southern Gothic grotesques of Eudora Welty, you might end up with something like Kealan Patrick Burke’s new novel, Kin. From a brutal (and brutally compelling) opening, Burke drags his reader into the story of Claire, who escapes – though maimed in body and spirit – from the knives of the Merrill clan, a family of cannibals who have twisted Christian dogma into a justification for torture and murder.
Their massacre of four young travelers, and Claire’s escape from it, also impacts the lives of Pete, the simple young farm boy who finds the dying Claire and brings her to safety, and Finch, the Iraq War veteran who is the brother of Claire’s boyfriend, killed by the Merrills. Though it seems at times that Kin has difficulty deciding whether it will be a gore-filled slasher, a morally driven revenge story or a defiant survivor’s tale of personal redemption, it’s refreshing to find a novelist with the ambition to strive for more than a single tone and a simple narrative.
Whether Burke succeeds in threading these disparate parts together seamlessly will be left up to the reader, but the scope and range of his novel is a success in itself. Another difficulty I had with the novel was Burke’s tendency to randomly wander into a polemic digression. Though thankfully rare, these brief sermons on 9/11 and the Iraq War, or on fundamentalist dogma strike a discordant note in Burke’s otherwise high quality prose. They were also far less effective, in my reading, than the arguments the author had already made through the plot and characters of his novel. These minor quibbles should not, however, dissuade anyone from giving this novel a read.
Kin is an unflinching examination of the aftermath of atrocities, both foreign and domestic, rural and urban; it is a gripping portrayal of fully realized villains and flawed heroes; it is a treatise on the cycle of violence and on the bonds of family; and it is, ultimately, a novel about the redemptive power of defiance.