The Town That Forgot How to Breathe

The Town That Forgot How to Breathe

3.5 8
by Kenneth J. Harvey

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Called the literary love child of Stephen King and Annie Proulx, The Town That Forgot to Breathe is a page-turning gothic tale and a profound exploration of what it really means to live in this modern world.

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Called the literary love child of Stephen King and Annie Proulx, The Town That Forgot to Breathe is a page-turning gothic tale and a profound exploration of what it really means to live in this modern world.

Editorial Reviews

David Maine
Kenneth J. Harvey's language is solid and unspectacular—a wise choice, given the oddness of these events…But ultimately, the book's success or failure rests upon two criteria: the ability to create a believable atmosphere of uncanny incident and the concurrent ability to convince the reader that this incident possesses significance. The novel succeeds at the first, falters at the second. We're effectively transported into a region of otherworldly strangeness and unpredictability, but the denouement is unconvincing.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
This American debut for Canadian novelist Harvey (Directions for an Opened Body) is a genre hybrid boasting impressive literary flair. It's a heartwarming romance: fisheries investigator Joseph Blackwood pines for the wife he adores while vacationing with their daughter, and their passion is rekindled in the midst of tragedy. It's a creepy horror story: menacing sea creatures and the eerily unsullied bodies of long-dead seafarers are bobbing to the surface of the waters around the picturesque Newfoundland fishing community of Bareneed, as the villagers are gripped by a mysterious epidemic that causes its victims to forget how to breathe. It's a subtly didactic political allegory: the intrusion of the outside world-and something about too many radio waves in the air-is eroding the companionable insularity of Bareneed's quirky residents, setting off undercurrents of nightmarish, utterly alien violence. And it's a fascinating regional novel: Harvey, a Newfoundlander himself, captures with his haunting voice the earthiness of an insular culture that's as distinct from the rest of Canada as smalltown Southerners are from the rest of America. Comparisons with Stephen King's commercial power and Annie Proulx's literary warmth are apt but glib. Harvey is an author whose storytelling prowess can speak for itself. Agent, Sally Harding. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Set in the author's native Newfoundland, Harvey's American debut is big in every way. The tiny fishing town of Bareneed is weathering some mysterious occurrences: mythical sea creatures are being netted, the preserved corpses of long-lost villagers are washing up, and a respiratory bug is going around. Fishing officer Joseph Blackwood arrives with his young daughter, too caught up at first in his dissolving marriage to notice anything strange in his ancestral town. Then he starts catching odd fish, and his daughter begins communicating with the ghost of his ethereal neighbor's missing daughter. Mystical, complicated, and always compelling, this is a standout among fall fiction; the combination of horror elements, an isolated community, and powerful prose might make this one a best seller. Highly recommended for all libraries. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Canadian author Harvey's first U.S. publication is a messy disaster novel. Bareneed is a small, pretty Newfoundland fishing town. Its inhabitants are on the cusp of a mysterious sickness. Gusts of anger will come first, then shortness of breath, and then death, unless the patient is hooked up to a respirator, fast. The first Bareneed native we meet is Miss Laracy, an old woman who used to have contact with fairies (or spirits). Don't dismiss her as a dingbat: Spirits have power in this yarn. She greets two new arrivals, Joseph Blackwood and small daughter Robin, summer renters. Joseph, a townie, is the closest we have to a protagonist, but no paragon; this thoroughly decent dad will turn nasty as the sickness reaches him. Their neighbor is Claudia, a potter, whose husband and daughter Jessica disappeared 18 months before. Or did they? Jessica, a drowning victim, is still out and about, a malevolent playmate for Robin. Meanwhile folks have started dying, and amiable old Doc Thompson is being run ragged making house calls. And then there's the sea! It's disgorging bodies from different time periods reaching back to the 18th century, though none of them decomposed. Confused yet? Harvey's lack of focus is his most obvious weakness as he moves between the Blackwoods and Claudia, the hospital, the army personnel now established dockside and a slew of minor characters; his obsession is regurgitation, as fish throw up human heads. To top it all off, a tsunami is approaching. Are the spirits causing it? That's one of those chicken-or-egg conundrums. All we can say for sure is that, obligingly, it will spare the Blackwoods. We never do learn the cause of that strange sickness. Harvey appears tolose interest in his own premise, and no wonder; the secrets of the deep are far more sexy than patients on respirators.
From the Publisher

“An eerie and gripping story, the work of an extravagantly haunted imagination.” —J. M. Coetzee, Nobel Prize winning author of Disgrace

“[A] thoughtful, grounded piece of literary horror.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Haunting, poetic, funny, moving, The Town That Forgot How to Breathe takes on the big themes--the meaning of life, our relationship to the dead, man's place in the rapidly changing modern world--and carries everything off with a surging confidence that leaves the reader, well, breathless.” —John Harding, Daily Mail (U.K.)

“Harvey brings uniquely imaginative storytelling skill to this wickedly allegorical tale. . . . It will frighten readers so much they may never turn out the lights.” —BookPage

“Harvey's characters and their world--both the mystical and the real--are meticulously created. He moves between them in a way that creates dread and confusion, leaving readers on edge. . . . A fascinating, mystical story that will make readers hold their breath.” —Detroit Free Press

“Both a contemporary and a historical novel, The Town That Forgot How to Breathe is a tour de force! It speaks of the sea: of those who are upon it, beside it, beneath it. Kenneth J. Harvey, a writer like no other, is as knowledgeable as he is adventurous. A very exceptional novel, extraordinary in its power.” —Alistair MacLeod, author of No Great Mischief

“The quality of [Harvey's] storytelling and his way with an eerie instant are too good to miss.” —The Times (London)

“Harvey has managed to come up with something fresh and original. . . . His voice and vision are unique and strong through his writing, and it's just the breath of fresh air needed in horror fiction today.” —

“A heartwarming romance . . . a creepy horror story . . . a subtly didactic political allegory . . . [and] a fascinating regional novel . . . Harvey is an author whose storytelling prowess can speak for itself.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Chilly as the touch of Corpse-Weed, and haunting as the trouble in Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot or H. P. Lovecraft's The Dunwich Horror. Harvey delivers the horror goods.” —The Believer

“Harvey's American debut is big in every way. . . . Mystical, complicated, and always compelling, this is a standout among fall fiction. . . . Highly recommended.” —Library Journal

“A compelling tale that works on several levels--as a horror story, a warm father-daughter bonding story, and as a social commentary.” —The Sacramento Bee

“A very creepy read; thoughtful and eerie at the same time.” —The Arizona Republic

“Harvey's own tall tale is a richly ambiguous parable, not of the need to abandon technology in favor of 'the simple life,' but of the need to restore myth and poetry to our lives.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Impressive . . . A truly strange and thoroughly entertaining page-turner, part fairy tale, part fable, part gothic thriller.” —Irish Independent

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Product Details

Raincoast Book Distribution
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.06(w) x 9.04(h) x 1.06(d)

Meet the Author

Kenneth J. Harvey's books are published in twelve countries. In Canada, The Town That Forgot How to Breathe won the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award. Harvey's works have also been nominated for the Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. He lives with his family in an outport of Newfoundland, Canada.

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Town That Forgot How to Breathe 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Reading the back cover and first chapter of this book in the store, I was immediately drawn in and excited to continue reading. However, the more I read, the more disappointed I became. This book has moments of genius, but in the end, I was left dissatisfied. Harvey wonderfully creates the aged seaside community of Bareneed and sets up imaginative plots. The problem is that there are too many plots and they don¿t fit together quite right. While surveying a number of themes, he doesn¿t do justice to any. The back of the book promised an eerie, haunting, poetic, and funny story that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Unfortunately, the only thing I was kept on the edge of was consciousness, as I often found myself falling asleep while forcing myself through the middle three hundred pages. Good try but, wow, what a letdown.
DawnMHamsher More than 1 year ago
Thumbs up! Good mystery, bizarre and creepy, but not too scary. What I liked: The opening character, Miss Laracy, grabbed me. Her colorful dialect pulled me in and I had to read on to get to know her better. Story line was very interesting. It had mystery, with a touch of bizarre and creepy (supernatural), but not too scary. Perfect combination. Pace was great. One part was so heart-pounding that I feared for what Joseph might do and inside I was yelling, “No, don’t do it!” The characters were colorful and really brought life to the fishing village of Bareneed. From the whispy and tragic Claudia to the straight-laced Lieutenant-Commander French, to the plump Dr. Thompson – I really enjoyed the characters. What I didn’t like: Nothing really --it was a satisfying read, but....if you forced me to “find” something, I might have two little things. 1. The dog – not sure what the dog meant to the story unless it was just for bizarre effect. 2. The ending outcome of the bizarre events/sickness (can’t spoil it for you). Not sure it completely works out in my head. Overall: Really enjoyed the book and I’ll be looking to read his other books.
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