Before we even begin the dissection, let me first point out that the cover of Keepers is stunning. That, right there, earns Mr. Braunbeck half of a point. But, I do have to deduct the same amount for the synopsis. That summary ... completely misleading. This book is not a twisted rendition of When Animals Attack. Nor is it a knock-off of Cujo, Them, or Watchers. Want to know how or what sets it apart from these other played-out renditions? Read it and find out for yourself.
Unconventional and clever, the plot is an intricate masterpiece. Shedding layer upon layer, the story constantly unravels and contorts in a new direction that, I promise, you will never see coming and never would have expected to be brought to. And the moment you think you understand what the tale is truly about - you're wrong. There are levels of subtext and symbols, even in the simplest scene your mind is in overdrive while Braunbeck takes you deeper into his world; never more so than in what could only be called the perfect ending.
Descriptive, but tight, Braunbeck's prose, while at times can get a bit purple, is never allowed free reign. The details are embellished just enough to grant you a vivid image without painting the picture for you and the dialog is fresh with just a hint of sarcasm. Me likey. In fact, there was one scene in the book that I absolutely loved. The exchange is between the main character, Gil, and Whitey, the secondary character, while at an animal shelter. Take a look and judge for yourself:
"You don't suppose they drug the animals, do you?"
"I wouldn't think so. Would they be this active if they had sedatives in their system?"
"Hell-I'm on sedatives half the time and you don't see it slowing me down any, do you?"
"No, but then you're freakish."
"Pot. Kettle. Black. Fill in the blanks."
Now, while Braunbeck usually likes to have the speed and atmosphere develop slowly, carefully, it is not so here. Oh no, you are gripped up from the first chapter and held firmly in place while the air thickens with the smell of decay and repentance. And if you think the ambience will slowly ease up or that you'll get used to it...give it up. The mood will only get darker, the climate colder, and that feeling of dread, well that will only increase with each page. Welcome to hell, dear readers.
Hand over you're desolate, discarded, abused, and forgotten and I promise Braunbeck will make them beautiful and wretched. Each character is realistic; written with brutal honesty and without regret, there are no rainbows or sunny days here. In fact, at times this cast may be a little too life-like. In the scene where the main character, Gil, dreams of a place called the Rumble Room you can see a very distinct reenactment of a widely known mock-act that was practiced at Auschwitz.
This isn't the only scene that hits home. Oh no, there are many and each one will embrace you against your will. But while their flaws are many, and the sins shown are so repugnant that you find yourself almost hating the author, he somehow manages not only to ignite your empathy, but ultimately, your forgiveness as well; both of the cast and yourself.
Horrifying and traumatic, thrilling and intense, Keepers has just become one of my favorite top ten books to read! Only a certain few have been able to capture me so extensively in their arms, move me to tears, and, yet, all the while with one hand over my eye.