The Hole is not a bad book but it is a frustrating one. The shaky opening chapters could deter the casual reader from continuing, but persevere and the reward is a middle section that zips along at a fair pace and contains some exciting scenes. Sadly it is let down again by an exposition-heavy final third and a resolution that is ultimately unfulfilling.
The Hole is essentially a post-apocalypse road trip undertaken by neighbours Elliot Bishop and Evajean Rhodes, both of whom have lost their families to a mysterious virus that has turned the majority of the population into, what they term, ‘Crazies’. Their trip is instigated due to a cryptic message, from Evajean’s husband before he died, stating that if anything happened she should head to Salt Lake City. On route to Utah the pair encounter various survivors that explain their fate and some hideous creatures from beyond this world that add a Lovecraftian aspect.
There is a religious theme to the novel that is – unfortunately – largely responsible for the sections that slow the narrative flow and gives the impression of two distinct story threads that don’t quite gel together. This is confirmed in the author’s notes where he reveals the novel comprises two separate ideas he had been working on. One for a post-apocalypse zombie tale and the other looking at the evolution of a religion, in this case Mormonism, from an atheist’s viewpoint. The evolution from the zombie tale to the more ambiguous purpose of the infected, depicted within The Hole, works well and gives it more originality than the glut of Z-fiction currently swamping the genre.
The opening chapters suffer from some clunky dialogue attribution that stifles the flow but these disappear once they set out on their trip. This middle section contains some well described scenes that are both thrilling and genuinely creepy, in particular a detour into a religious cult’s village that is well executed. However this momentum is derailed, by a switch of narrative, when the two protagonists’ purpose is revealed. A sustained section of exposition is poorly handled, overloading the reader with an origin story for the big bad by the name of ‘Moroni’ that would be better hinted at. Herein lies the stories biggest failing as it tries to fill in too much detail for the reader rather than leaving some ambiguity to the origin of the apocalypse. The ending also fails to trust the reader to have picked up on the relevant details which leads to a section near the end that practically lists all the important plot points.
Ultimately there is enough good prose and characterisation in evidence to suggest that, with a more stringent editor, future projects by Aaron Ross Powell would be well worth checking out.