In this debut thriller, an otherworldly presence stalks a man in—and out of—his dreams.
Jed Waters is a financial consultant from Gaithersville, Maryland. He’s a touch overweight, battles insomnia, and feels depressed about what his life has become. He rolls out of bed early one day, careful not to wake his girlfriend, Emma, and walks his bloodhound, Dog. When Emma joins him downstairs in the kitchen, she says that she needs “some time to figure things out.” Later that night, Jed has a horrific dream of Emma cocooning herself in a viscous white substance. He wakes in a panic and finds himself temporarily frozen in place. That week, as his dreams grow more graphic and the paralysis episodes continue, Jed visits Dr. Feinman for sleep aids and antidepressants. Emma eventually explains that she has a job opportunity in Philadelphia, which factored into her decision to pause their relationship. Jed copes by working, drinking, and avoiding potential sermons from his neighbor the Rev. Bill Robertson. But it isn’t long until Jed begins hearing, seeing, and even smelling grisly things (like an undead cop) while awake. After a nightmare about a killing spree that involves one of his clients, he wakes to find a cloaked figure in his room. It says: “You have forgotten us, but we have not forgotten you.” In his novel, Knapp explores a phenomenon that’s long afflicted humanity, fueling the mythologies of everything from witches to alien abductions. As one terrifying line describes sleep paralysis, “His arms and legs jerked straight as if pulled in four directions at once.” Truly shocking moments will startle readers (“Clear liquid ran from the raw flesh, and he was horrified as a fly crawled across his open eye”), especially when strewn through Jed’s humdrum life. In addition, the author successfully portrays Jed and Emma’s complicated relationship. Yet frequent digressions into what characters are eating or watching on television become intrusive after the narrative’s first third. The Exorcist–style atmospherics are welcome in a tale about demons draining one’s creativity, but lethargic pacing blunts Knapp’s effort.
A sometimes-effective supernatural tale.