cover image A Map of the Dark

A Map of the Dark

John Dixon, Null Null, . . Verse Chorus, $16.95 (156pp) ISBN 978-1-891241-21-5

Halloween turns into a very grim holiday in Dixon's stark but flawed debut novel about a group of teenage boys on the rampage in small town De Pere, Wis., in 1963. Rambunctious fifth-grader Chuck Williams wants to hang out with the older boys—Omsted, Carner and Rusch—for an evening of more tricks than treats. He gets his wish as the night unfolds, but his choice of companions proves fateful when the gang quickly graduates from wreaking havoc amid innocent revelers to a fight over a girl that ends in the murder of Putzie Van Vonderan. Between descriptions of the teenagers' violent mayhem, Dixon details the downward arc of Evelyn Schmidt, a cancer victim who goes on a drunken bender as her son, David, floats in and out of the chaos. Dixon's story churns with action as the boys hurl insults and test their limits, and Evelyn Schmidt agitates for another drink at the local bar. But the novel's lack of backstory or character development makes the violence of this pivotal Halloween night feel especially random and gratuitous. Though the author demonstrates talent with the dark action sequences in this grim, charged portrayal of smalltown life in the early '60s, the novel remains thin and episodic. (Oct.)