Rick Hautala isnít one of my favorite writers, but I canít deny that he knows how to spin a yarn. Hautala proves that in this novella, a fast moving page-turner that can be taken as a straightforward sci fi-tinged chiller or (as F. Paul Wilson suggests in his afterward) a deep, meaningful exploration of loss and longing.
REUNION contains some of Hautalaís shortcomings, notably an overabundance of clichťs: a blown tire is ďflat as a pancakeĒ and there are several variations on that ever-popular genre standby, the icy chill felt at the base of oneís spine. For the most part, though, itís quite good. Also, at 111 pages itís the only Hautala book Iíve read that I donít feel is too long (this is an author whose novels tend to clock in around 500 pages).
The tale begins simply enough in a small Northeastern town. Itís the end of August, and the introspective Jackie and his troublemaking buddy Chris are about to start junior high school. On Chrisí suggestion they set off to crash a nighttime high school reunion at a nearby country club, where Chris figures they can mooch food and beer. Jackie is apprehensive for reasons he canít put his finger on, but Chris is insistent, and precipitates a nightmarish, danger-filled trek through the woods that comes to entail many life-changing epiphanies.
Also afoot in the area is the fiftyish John, whoís traveled all the way from California to attend the reunion. Itís clear from the start that Johnís intentions involve Jackie and Chris, both of whom he somehow knows intimately. John is also aware that the boys happen to be lurking in the woods nearby.
To reveal any more would ruin the surprises that are a large part of what makes this story so effective. John, it turns out, has a definite connection with Jackie and Chris, and the year in which the tale takes place (which isnít immediately specified) is also important. What ultimately occurs is scary, sad and thought-provoking, with a not-inconsiderable emotional impact.