Auerbach follows his first novel, 2012’s Penpal, with a dark and disturbing horror thriller set in the Florida Panhandle. One day, 15-year-old Ben takes his three-year-old brother, Eric, to a local grocery store, where Eric drops his stuffed rhino, Stampie, into a restroom toilet. While Ben is cleaning Stampie, Eric vanishes. Five years later, Ben is working as a night stocker in the same store that Eric disappeared in and remains intent on finding his brother. When a coworker informs Ben that he saw Eric months earlier, Ben’s obsession becomes manic and he begins seeing others—including his manager, the old woman who runs the bakery, and a coworker—as potential conspirators. Readers will be reminded of the young Stephen King (the store’s baler, for example, evokes King’s industrial laundry press machine in “The Mangler”), but the story unravels at the conclusion, with one too many strained sequences. The novel’s rich imagery suggests Auerbach is capable of doing better next time. (Aug.)
An atmospheric and unsettling novel. . . . Auerbach’s portrait of an after-hours grocery store—as benign a setting as one could imagine—takes on an aura of almost Gothic menace. Most importantly, his ability to convey the grief, guilt and sense of loss that fuel Ben’s fixation gives the book a resonant emotional center. With just two novels, Auerbach has established himself as a significant figure in the post-King generation of horror writers.”
—The Washington Post
“Auerbach cleverly weaves in the horror trope of creepy kids amid a vibe that’s best described as Stephen King meets Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. . . . The novel is wickedly effective in creating a feeling of doom. . . . Bad Man delivers an unexpected gut punch and saves its darkest deeds for an unnerving end.”
“If you think The Shining set in a grocery store, you’re not far off. . . . Auerbach is magnificent with atmosphere, able to conjure dread from a huge array of normally nonthreatening places. This is a horror author to watch very, very closely.”
“Dark and disturbing. . . . Readers will be reminded of the young Stephen King.”
“This nasty little slice of Southern gothic. . .is a heady, puzzling, and oddly gripping exercise in depicting a small town as a macabre place filled with everyday horrors ranging from a child’s stuffed animal to a gruesome industrial accident. . . . Auerbach [keeps] readers on the edges of their seats for the whole ride.”
“Auerbach vividly turns an innocent small-town Florida grocery store into the place where nightmares go to replenish themselves. . . . Bad Man [has] a marvelously dark and horrifically satisfying conclusion.”
"Bad Man will slowly but surely creep you out. . . . [Auerbach] wrings terror out of the every day and every night of the semi-urban Florida Panhandle and makes the world stop for the time it takes to read this work."
“A shattering and frightening novel about loss, obsession, and the horrors you unravel when you dig too deep. Dathan Auerbach has written my favorite book of the year.”
—Thomas Olde Heuvelt, author of Hex
“With Penpal Auerbach freaked us out. With Bad Man he’s got a bigger canvas, and, it seems, a sharper shovel, as he’s dug deeper here and found a totally unsettling story about never giving up on a loss. Brilliant stuff.”
—Josh Malerman, author Bird Box and Unbury Carol
“Bad Man blew a big dark hole right through my chest. Spellbindingly terrifying stuff. Dathan Auerbach writes high-test, 151-proof horror.”
—Nick Cutter, author Little Heaven and The Troop
“Cleanup on aisle 9: Bad Man will make a mess of your daily life, will haunt your next trip to the grocery store. And then you’ll want to reread it, just to see how Dathan Auerbach did that. And you’ll be scared all over again.”
—Stephen Graham Jones, author of Mongrels
After a young man loses his little brother, he searches for him desperately while working as a stocker at a grocery store.This nasty little slice of Southern gothic is Auerbach's (Penpal, 2012) second novel, following his popular Reddit-fueled, self-published debut. This time, he lands at Doubleday's horror-heavy Blumhouse Books imprint. A prologue finds Ben and his 3-year-old brother, Eric, in a grocery store in a desolate stretch of North Florida—and just as surely as he was there, Eric disappears. Five years later, Ben is a wreck, a heavy, slow adolescent who's partially lame from a childhood accident. His father is largely absent, and his stepmother is crippled by grief. Out of desperation, Ben gets a job as a stocker at the very store where his brother vanished. What follows is a heady, puzzling, and oddly gripping exercise in depicting a small town as a macabre place filled with everyday horrors ranging from a child's stuffed animal to a gruesome industrial accident. Ben is under the thumb of the shop's cruel manager, Bill Palmer. He also has co-workers, a strange cast that includes his buddies Marty and Frank, the bakery's misanthrope, Miss Beverly, and a cashier named Chelsea. Also keeping one eye on Ben is local policeman James Duchaine, whose motivations are hard to discern. Through it all, Ben remains buoyed by hope, about which Auerbach writes: "It doesn't fix anything. It just numbs and reassures, until it can consume the desperate for the sake of its own brilliant incandescence. And as hope comforts us, it becomes easier and easier to forget that it too was in the jar that Pandora carried. It's the one horror of the world that wasn't loosed when she opened the lid. It's the one horror that lives in us."An unreliable protagonist and a nebulous finale may put some off, but credit Auerbach for keeping readers on the edges of their seats for the whole ride.
Every older sibling caring for a younger one has probably wished at one point that the latter would just disappear, but such a wish is furthest from Ben's mind when his three-year-old brother, Eric, vanishes without a trace during a trip to the grocery store. Ben spends the next five years scouring the town for Eric, pestering the neighbors and local police long after the case has been forgotten. Now 20 and in desperate need of money, Ben takes a job at the same store from which Eric disappeared and soon realizes that something isn't exactly right there. From Mr. Palmer, the despotic manager, to the massive baler that looms in the back room, the place seems to taunt Ben with knowledge of what may have happened to Eric. Author Auerbach, a frequent and well-known contributor to Reddit.com's NoSleep page, a forum for short horror stories, has a style well suited to short stories that unfortunately fails to adapt to a full-length novel. The characters, especially Ben, remain underdeveloped, which may lead readers to wish that this was indeed a short story. There are truly creepy moments, but they are few and far between. VERDICT A disappointingly flawed effort from one of NoSleep's best writers. An optional purchase.—Tyler Hixson, Brooklyn P.L.