Suspenseful novel may irrate readers with no chapter breaks

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By Rob Cline, correspondent

“Resthaven,” Iowa City author Erik Therme’s second novel, is a suspense tale featuring a group of bickering junior high girls locked in an abandoned retirement home. Unable to muster any trust for one another or to work together to escape, the girls find themselves in increasing danger, especially once they encounter a seemingly crazed old man and a young boy he may have kidnapped.

Therme’s text is unbroken, with no pauses for chapters or other section markers beyond one near book’s end. On the one hand, this helps him propel his story forward and raise the stakes for his characters. On the other, there is no opportunity for the reader to catch his or her breath or even to find a convenient stopping point. It’s an aggressive strategy, and how it is received will vary from reader to reader.

The somewhat unclear layout of the facility in which the girls are trapped will likely also strike different readers in a different ways. While the retirement home is described as a large rectangle in which it should be difficult to get lost, the girls quickly do get confused as they go up and down staircases and around blind corners. That disorientation extends to the readers, and might be seen as a positive or a negative. Certainly, it helps convey the desperation the characters are feeling as the story unfolds.

Therme makes the occasional odd word choice, as in the sentence, “The old man’s head jarred toward the voice.” In some of the most dire moments in the book, the characters have surprising lengthy conversations before acting. But Therme is skilled at building suspense, and the book comes to a satisfying close with some relationships mended, one rivalry firmly in place, and one obligation still to be fulfilled.

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