LitStack Rec: Crash Course & The Library at Mount Char

The Library at Mount Char, Scott Hawkinsmount car

Carolyn Sopaski is a librarian.  But she’s not like any librarian you would ever hope to meet.  When she was a small child, her parents died and she was “adopted” by a being that she only knows as Father.  Father is very strong, very wise, and has been around for a long time.  A very long time.  Like, 60,000 years of time.  In that time he had amassed a huge amount of knowledge, which he set down within twelve different catalogs, stored within the Library.  Each of his adopted children was assigned one of these catalogs to master.  For Carolyn and her “siblings”, there was no television, no movies or play dates; instead, there were “shadows and ancient books.”  And the children were expected to be very, VERY diligent in their studies.  For Father drove their studies, and he was a stern taskmaster, unflinchingly fair sans compassion, and very, very cruel when meting out punishment.

But now, Father is missing.  He often would travel away from the Library, but this time, he has been gone for longer than anyone can remember and cannot be found anywhere:  not in the world, not in the underworld, not in the future.  Rumors swirl that perhaps, somehow, he is dead, beyond the reach of even the underworld.  And in this uncertainty, his enemies are moving.  The siblings must use the knowledge they have gathered to find Father and to protect the Library itself, for whoever controls the Library controls power over life, death, and indeed, over all of creation.

Yet in all this talk of gods and monsters, what sets The Library at Mount Char apart is how very human its characters are.  Father’s children may live in a place set apart, but they are not strangers to modern civilization; much of their study takes them out into our world.  Carolyn may not know how to work a car door handle, but she knows about cigarettes and phones, mouthwash and guacamole.  She may raise eyebrows when she’s out and about, but she doesn’t raise suspicion.  Which is good, because Carolyn is working on a plan to save the Library, a plan to thwart her adversaries.  But she can’t implement her plan alone, or even with her siblings – in fact, she especially can’t do it with her siblings…

That’s where Steve comes in.  Steve is a plumber, with no family but his dog.  He likes it that way.  Back when he was a kid, after his parents died and he moved in with his aunt in her doublewide and her drunken boyfriends, he started doing petty crimes to keep himself in food and cash, but he had given that all up after a frightening brush with the law.  For the last ten years he’s lived a quiet, law abiding life; that is, until he meets this gal at a bar who asks him over shots and chicken wings if he wants to break into a house.  Her name is Carolyn, and she’s carrying a duffle bag with $327,000 in it, and it will be all his if he just helps her out this once…

The Library at Mount Char is one of the very few horror books that had me both shocked and laughing on the same page.  Many horror writers are very clever, but their humor is predicated on the macabre.  Mr. Hawkins’ humor flows from the vagary of human nature.  Plus, the sentiment we encounter in this book is believable and universal; we can relate to what even the most twisted of characters is going through… to a point (which is also incredibly relevant and pushes the story).  There is plenty of gore and mayhem, but when it is excessive (and sometimes it is), it is excessive for a reason; when there is cruelty, it is there for a reason.  Sometimes a stupid, mindless, messed up reason, but a reason that feels genuine.

And The Library at Mount Char is one of the few books I’ve read where the swell of the “action” does not dictate the story.  In The Library at Mount Char, the world has been changed by the dramatic climax, and the aftermath is not rushed nor simplified for the sake of convention.  We get to live with the consequences of the actions, and although it was originally confusing to read (due to our conditioning of climax = end), it was gratifying to have the story continue after the shooting had stopped (more or less).  This continuation, this letting the story resolve at the story’s pace felt respectful, and dang, I liked that.  It made me appreciate this debut novel even beyond the powerful writing, the encompassing characters and the exceptional story line.

Highly recommended, especially during National Library Week!

—Sharon Browning