Book Title: The Pool – Omnibus Edition
Author: Ernie Howard
Publication Date: September 30, 2017
Available on: Amazon as an eBook
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
It’s been a long drive from Colorado and Shawn is tired of driving for over ten hours. In need of a break, he and his family stop at a motel in Nevada for the night. The kids want to use the pool and the parents just want to rest. But strange things start happening to Shawn. He has horrific visions, seeing people covered in wounds and looking like corpses. Is it just dizziness or something more?
We find out in short order as things get worse and even stranger. Dark secrets are revealed and what is really going on is more than you could ever imagine. It’s all connected to the pool and what happens when people go into it.
The plot here is not something that you will expect to get answers to right away. To share more about it in detail would be pure spoilers. The pool at first looks innocent enough but the deeper meaning behind it and what it really represents are completely unexpected and unforgettable. It’s the driving engine behind the entire novel and impacts everyone we meet in the story. Most notably, it affects Shawn, his wife Audrey and his two young children, Alex and Jess.
We’re given little glimpses of what’s going on and with each morsel, we’re hungry to know more, as the author skillfully builds suspense and makes it compelling to the point where it’s difficult to stop reading. The desire for an explanation to all that is happening is what drove me to keep turning pages and I was delighted by the different turns the story took, surprised to see what I found and saddened by what the characters were going through.
There is one moment in particular that made me aghast at what I was reading, as it completely blindsided me so unexpectedly, I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. The sheer power and raw intensity of that moment drew tears to my eyes. It was so potent, it took the story to the next level and never stopped doing so, setting the tone for the rest of the novella to come.
In between chapters, there is a narrator spinning a yarn that becomes more and more relevant to Shawn’s story as well. His commentary about Shawn’s situation grows more important as it progresses. The narrator’s ominous and sage wisdom on the nature of the world and of Shawn’s situation is extremely accurate and provides insightful commentary on the blackest part of humanity’s soul. It also ratchets up the tension and anticipation as his role in this tale becomes clear.
Shawn is a flawed character with a dark past and the desire to move past it. His journey through the novel is the hardest for him given his disturbing visions, the secrets he’s holding and how his past reverberates throughout the entire novel. I felt his pain deeply as his sorrow and heartache were all evident. It’s described in a way that was so well written, you couldn’t help but feel like you’ve walked in Shawn’s shoes his entire life.
In the second installment, there is another character whose emotional aching you experience personally as well. This pain is connected extensively to the first installment, which only makes the sadness cut even deeper when you realize why this is so.
The final installment wraps it all up in a spectacular, frenetic fashion, meshing it all together with supporting characters we’ve gotten to know over the course of the story to date. Marcus and Jonathan, in particular, are colorful standouts, given multiple layers to their characters and move to the forefront to play pivotal roles in the finale. As the fate of the entire world is now on the line, the story plays out around them, their motivations driving the narrative to its riveting conclusion.
This novella was originally published in three serialized parts. There are very story-specific reasons behind this decision and how it utilizes these elements is one of the many storytelling pleasures you’ll find once you read it. With each installment, the first part is the longest, establishing characters and setting. The second expands on the ending of the first part and the third blends it all together, exhausting me emotionally on the roller coaster that accelerates around each swift curve the author put in the story.
It starts off as a bit of a horror story but grows over the course of the tale into something more enthralling and fast-paced. It does have some supernatural aspects to it and it uses them ingeniously and in a refreshing way. But ultimately, it remains invested in Shawn’s family and their emotional dilemmas.
As a reader, this focus was much appreciated. After spending time with them like this, their fate was one that I needed to see and discover how it played out. This emotional heartbeat anchors this tale that grows in the telling and the ending just blew me away.
For a novella, this is a swiftly moving story without an ounce of fat in it, presenting fully-developed characters, a mysterious setting, a pool with strange properties and a tale worth telling. I wanted to read this novella because I had read other short stories written by this author, highly enjoyed them and wanted to read a longer length work of his. I’m happy to say that after reading this, I want to dive into more of his stories, as this one was highly entertaining, struck an emotional chord and was filled with dynamic storytelling.
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Previous Indie Athenaeum book reviews about stories by Ernie Howard include “Bus Stop: A Short Story“, “On Holiday with an S.O.B“, “Gramps: A Time Travel Short Story“, “Night Portals Boxed Set – Books 1 – 8“, “Melody 8 – Book One: The Day of the Song“, “Melody 8 – Book Two: The Musical Witch of the South” and “Melody 8 – Book Three: A Sound for the Deaf.”