Literary horror is a rare fish indeed. Maybe as rare as an albino shark or a red sculpin—just two of the many horrible mysteries the sea churns out in The Town That Forgot How To Breathe, by Kenneth J. Harvey [St. Martin’s Press]. This character-driven horror story beautifully presents Newfoundland’s seaside town of Bareneed, a place where the old locals leave gifts for fairies and scorn tourists. Meanwhile, others cling to the area's homespun ideals and escape, like one of several protagonists, Joseph, who brings his daughter on vacation to get his head together as his marriage falls apart. But Joseph’s already fragile frame of mind slowly begins to crack as he falls under the spell of his seductive, pregnant, Victorian next-door neighbor; his daughter takes her daughter’s ghost as her best playmate; and the townspeople begin dropping dead from a mysterious breathing ailment.
But Joseph isn’t the only character you follow with fascination: there’s Eileen Laracy, a toothless old maid who’s mourning as much for her loss of communion with the spirit world as she does for her true love lost at sea. There’s Tommy Quilty; the mildly retarded artist and his prophetic drawings; and Robin, Joseph’s little girl who is oddly in tune with the otherworld of Bareneed.
If you’ve read Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, the enchanting local dialect will feel familiar and fun. So much more than a horror story, the language in The Town That Forgot How To Breathe is beautiful, the pace quick for its 470+ pages, and like so much classic literature, there are larger fables and morals of love and progress behind the story. Highly recommended.