Carrion Comfort

Dan Simmons
Carrion Comfort Cover

Carrion Comfort


Like The Lost van Gogh, Carrion Comfort is a book I've been reading for a long time. I started it back in November of last year, but at least this time I have a good reason for the delay: This sucker is 884 pages long. I've also read it before, and it's a part of my "revisit novels I read Back in the Day" series that I started last summer. The last time I read this one was when I was a senior in college, and that was almost 20 years ago.

In Carrion Comfort, the plot centers on a group of people who can control other people with their minds. It's not an across-the-board trait (think how prevalent the mutants are in the world of X-Men), and it's not something that works all the time (some folks just can't be controlled, for whatever reason), but people who are really good at it can maintain that control for years at a time, and even over great distances. The novel starts off with a group of these really good psychic vampires, recounting their kills from the past year. Yes, they've made a game out of being able to control others to kill for them.

Carrion Comfort is a sprawling book that covers a lot of ground over a lot of years. One of the "vampires" was an SS member during Nazi Germany, and he had a confrontation with one particular prisoner at a camp, and that confrontation is what keeps those two characters together. They haven't seen each other since the prisoner escaped, but as the novel reaches the modern day (well, 1981 is "modern day" according to the book), the prisoner hasn't forgotten him and has more or less devoted his life to finding him and killing him, and if he manages to find out more about their abilities along the way, so much the better.

I re-read Summer of Night during my run of re-reading books I've read in the past, and one thing I mentioned then was Simmons' deliberate pace with his narrative. This isn't a beach read by any means, not just because of its length, but also because Simmons takes his time with creating the story and the world it inhabits. Beach reads typically move at a brisk pace, but Simmons forces you to slow down and take your time with the story. It doesn't feel overlong or rambling, and if you try to think of something to cut, you'd be hard pressed to do it. Everything here is important, and taking out one thing will affect what happens later in the story.

When I first read this book, I was mostly into Stephen King, and I think my estimation of the book was lower because of that. Simmons' style is so different from King's that they just can't be compared. Plus, Carrion Comfort is one of those books that feels important, even if it is genre fiction. There are clear thematic parallels between the atrocities these mind vampires commit and those committed by the Nazis in World War II. Thematically, emotionally, and structurally, the book feels more significant. That Simmons has a very natural writing style makes it that much more impressive.

My biggest complaint about the book (at least the particular edition I read) is the awful cover art that accompanies it. There is nothing in the book that's relevant to the skeleton on the cover, save for the puppet strings from which it dangles. I guess the skeleton is supposed to represent the body count (which is pretty high), but it looks too cheesy to convey the seriousness of the brutality within.

Regardless, the book lives up to its expectations and is so full of detail that any fan of horror should read it.