The Rut is the debut novel from Kentucky native, S. L. Kerns. It is a thriller that might remind readers of Stephen King’s The Shining while also conceptually reminding readers of James Wan’s film, Insidious. It starts out with an idyllic family, husband Dean Rollins, wife Victoria, and son Devin, all thoroughly devoted to one another. From a distance, it is the perfect family. Yet, as Kerns zooms in on their lives, readers are exposed to the cracks within the painting, and the so-called “nuclear family” is revealed to be as unstable as francium. Even atoms are complex organisms, composed of neutral, positive, and negative aspects, and within the Rollins family, the polarized atoms within Dean and Victoria start a slow spiral of repulsion. On the surface, Kerns gives readers a midlife crisis – the kind suffused with missed opportunity or at least the conception of it – in a strained relationship. However, rather than keeping the failing marriage Kramer vs. Kramer, or even pushing to it to a Fatal Attractions kind of thriller, Kerns gives us a little touch of King.
Dean is an author researching for a book on Satanic cults whose principal subject is a brutally psychotic inmate, Ted Hevil. Hevil claims that his Lord and Savior, Satan, will reward his recruitment drive with high honors in Hell, a serious claim that Dean shrugs aside as being – understandably – insane. However, a series of innocuous suggestions from Hevil leads Dean down a road that parallels Tom Cruise’s descent into corruption in Stanley Kubrick’s film Eyes Wide Shut. The biggest difference is that Dean’s descent has nothing to do with Lust, and everything to do with Wrath. When dealing with a concept as old as Satan, it makes sense to explore similar conceits that are equally as old, and Kerns’ use of the Seven Deadly Sins is a nice callback to the various levels of hell as depicted in Dante’s Inferno.
“The road to hell is paved in good intentions,” or so the saying goes, and at its heart, this is exactly the tale that Kerns gives us with The Rut. Dean loves his wife and would do anything to keep her love. Vickie loves her husband, but the passion that once burned between the two has been reduced to a cool smolder. This is the chill reality of age. When the bonfires of youth start to diminish, what, then, is to become of the relationship? What will one do to reignite that passion? How can someone escape the rut that most people inevitably fall into? The thrill – horror, even – of The Rut is the mesmerism of ourselves, knowing that one day, Dean’s or Vickie’s faces will one day be our own. Let’s just hope that there is no Ted Hevil grinning in the shadows, waiting to unleash our most primal Sins upon the populace.
Overall, The Rut is the kind of thriller that pulls readers in for a tight character-driven story and whispers in their ear to “hold on.” Page after page, I was there with the Rollins family through the roller coaster. With each sudden dip, I yearned for them to return to normal; with each hairpin turn, I felt the gut-wrenching Gs; every single jolt of the ride made me want to disembark before the inevitable crash. I’m glad Kerns wouldn’t let me do so.
The Rut is available through Amazon.com from August 10th, 2019. Get your copy early, as the .99¢ promotion won’t last long! Published by Burning Willow Press, an independent publisher of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror.
The Queen has spoken.