Jun 13 2014 12:00pm

It Wasn’t Aliens, and They Weren’t Dead All Along: The Big Reveal in Blake Crouch’s Pines

Blake Crouch Pines A planeload of people crash-land on a seemingly deserted island where strange and unexplainable things happen.

A town wakes to find a mysterious dome has descended to trap them.

I love these sorts of stories, where the characters don’t understand what’s happening, and things grow stranger, and as I read I keep asking myself what the hell is going on. More often than not, though, I’m disappointed when the mysterious circumstances are finally explained.

So often the explanation falls into one of a few predictable categories:

  • Aliens did it.
  • The characters have been whisked back in time, or forward, or into a parallel universe.
  • They’re all dead, and this is the afterlife, or purgatory.

You get the idea. It’s easier to come up with weird, mysterious situations than it is to explain them. That’s why I was blown away by Blake Crouch’s novel, Pines. In Pines, Secret Service agent Ethan Burke regains consciousness after a car accident in the small town of Wayward Pines. Burke has come to investigate the disappearance of two fellow agents, but finds himself trapped in Wayward Pines, unable to make a phone call, surrounded by the town’s strange, secretive, sometimes violent citizens. All roads out of town lead right back in.

As the story progresses, things get even stranger. Burke discovers his wife living in the town, only she’s a decade older than when he last saw her a few days earlier. Monstrous, highly intelligent creatures stalk the wilderness.

As I drew ever-closer to the Big Reveal, I braced myself for disappointment. Had they been abducted by aliens? Maybe Burke had stumbled into a parallel universe? Were they all dead? (Please, oh please, don’t tell me they’re all dead…)

When I reached the reveal it was…none of the above. It was cool, and fresh, and it worked. It explained all of the mysterious circumstances without cheating or hand-waving. And I didn’t see it coming.

I’ve played around with a few ideas for mysterious circumstances novels, but I always get stuck at the Big Reveal. It’s hard to come up with something new and different. All roads seem to lead right back to one of those old standbys. Blake Crouch came up with something different, and I find that simply awesome.

Will McIntosh is an author whose debut novel Soft Apocalypse was a finalist for both a Locus award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. He is a frequent contributor to Asimov’s, where his story “Bridesicle” won the 2010 Reader’s Award, as well as the 2010 Hugo Award for Best Short Story. Love Minus Eighty (based on “Bridesicle”) was named best Science Fiction novel of 2013 by the American Library Association. His lastest novel, Defenders (available now from Orbit), has been optioned by Warner Brothers for a feature film. Follow him on Twitter @WillMcIntoshSF.

Gene Hutchinson
1. sukamadee
Awesome read...The sequel was just as well executed. I've always been the type to start my writing with the big reveal, and work my way backwards through the story...So this leaves me with 25-40 "Big reveals" but no actual drive to the reveal. I know this doesn't work for everyone, but it helps me stay focused when creating conflicts for my characters.
Lianne Burwell
2. LKBurwell
Book three is out this month. And M Night Shamawhatsit is turning the series into a television show. We'll see if he can pull it off.
Thomas Thatcher
3. StrongDreams
Read the review, sounds interesting.
Came back and read the comments, interest fading...doesn't anyone write books any more, instead of series or franchises? And a TV show too?
Joanna Slupek
4. Spriggana
Well, the reveal itself was OK. Other things though… I’m tired of lands with thousands of predators but no prey visible anywhere. Everytime I see something like that I think about Merry(?) wondering what the mosquitoes eat when there are no hobbits nearby…
And the "festivals"? Were they really necessary?
Shelly wb
5. shellywb
I bought this today after reading your review, because so many books have disappointed me in this area as well and I wanted to see if this one held up the way you said. Great tension in the book leading up to an ending I didn't expect.

@3, the book is standalone as far as the story goes. There's no need to read a sequel. I don't know if I'll go on to read the other books, but I did enjoy this one.

@4, you're sliding into spoiler territory which will ruin the book for others. And them not showing you something doesn't mean it doesn't exist. You only saw what was happening for a couple of pages. There's plenty of room for explanations to pop up in later books, and I can think of a few possibilities off the top of my head.
6. graftonio
This book was pretty interesting UNTIL the reveal. I don't share your enthusiasm for the ending I thought it was a pretty big cop out. Then again I had just got done reading the Wool Omnibus.
Cool Bev
7. Cool Bev
I think Gene Wolfe has this problem a few times - Castleview for ex. The unexplained phenomenon could have a bunch of explanations: aliens, time-travel, mass hypnosis, fraud, fairies, etc. But by the end, he has to pick one, and it's never as much fun as you had hoped.

Of course, he's a trickster, and I might just be missing the REAL cool truth by accepting the unreliable narrative's solution...

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment