A Black and Endless Sky
- By Matthew Lyons
- Keylight Books
- 354 pp.
- Reviewed by Keith Donohue
- March 18, 2022
Family road trips can be hell. Literally.
Ever take a road trip with your sibling only to find they’re not the person you thought they were? Your sister turns out to be kind of a monster with a drinking problem who always seems to get the two of you in trouble? If so, you’ll be relieved to read A Black and Endless Sky, the new horror thriller by Matthew Lyons. Whatever hijinks your sibling might pull, they will pale in comparison to the terrifying journey of Jonah and Nell Talbot from the streets of San Francisco to the cul-de-sacs of Albuquerque.
The author of The Night Will Find Us and dozens of short stories drawn from the same vein, Lyons knows how to trepan the genres and extract something weird and messy. Depending on your taste in such matters, you might be thrilled and/or horrified as the novel builds to its unbelievably gory climax. Or you might find yourself wondering if it’s simply high-class schlock: well fashioned but ultimately a black and endless hole.
The story opens promisingly with a weird prologue set in the Mojave Desert. A sinister, indeterminate corporation digging a giant hole in the sand uncovers an ancient triangular door a thousand feet down, beyond which seems to be a warren of secret chambers. Naturally, they blow a hole in the door, which one should never do, and a murmur rumbles as black smoke pours out and penetrates the minds of the onsite crew.
“And then everything goes to hell.”
Keep that in the back of your mind as we jump-cut to Jonah, newly divorced and awaiting sister Nell to come drive him back to their childhood home 1,325 miles away. (One of the fun aspects of the book is that the chapter heads count down the miles the characters are from Albuquerque.) Now in their 30s, the Talbot kids had a rough go with some dark secrets from childhood, drifted apart, and are hoping the trip will allow them to reconnect. Things go awry quickly when Nell suggests they stop off for a drink at a biker bar in Broughton, California (1,149 miles to Albuquerque).
You know how it is when two yuppies meet four heavily tattooed members of a motorcycle gang sipping beers in the middle of the day. T-R-O-U-B-L-E. There is a fair amount of cussing and name-calling. A fight breaks out, and everything goes to hell. The rest of the novel is largely about how those mean old biker dudes chase after Jonah and Nell to exact revenge.
Except there’s that open portal to hell that Nell stumbles into in the desert, which has an otherworldly effect on her personality. (If you thought she was a badass back at the bar, just wait till you see her now.) Continuing their drive, the Talbots meet a mysterious stranger who seems to know what happened out there in the hole, and she joins the chase through the beautiful and desolate landscape of the American Southwest.
There are many more fights and frights and things that go bump in the nights, so an iron stomach and a willing suspension of disbelief are prerequisites — for both the characters and the reader — on this journey. The things one puts up with for one’s sibling.
Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of A Black and Endless Sky is the narrative voice Lyons uses. Take, for example, this poetic bit about Nell’s innermost feelings as the darkness invades her body: “Her jaw stretched and ripped as her insides turned to paste, her bones groaning as they bowed and broke like glass…”
That’s the kind of bravura, over-the-top writing that gives this profane, weird, credulity-stretching novel its charm. But you have to enjoy this hyper-masculine mix of style and plot to make it to the end of the long, strange trip. And the forgoing violence along the journey is nothing compared to the hell of its ending. Reader, I finished it.
Keith Donohue is the author of five novels, most recently The Motion of Puppets.