Confession time: when I heard Dathan Auerbach was coming out with a new book, I had to have it. I read his first self-published book, Penpal, in 2013 and it remains the only book to make me miss my stop on the train. I’ve been hoping he’d come out with another story to grip my imagination and keep me hooked to every word and now that day has come.
For those not in the know, Auerbach posted an early version of Penpal as a creepypasta on Reddit, and it became so popular that he took it to the next level. Now, he’s written his first novel with a big name publishing house, Bad Man, and it is 400 pages of everything that make Auerbach one of the best horror authors I have read to date.
Bad Man follows Eric, a young man who takes his three-year-old brother Ben to the supermarket with him one day before he mysteriously disappears. Five years later, with Ben still missing and their family strapped for cash, Eric takes a job as a stocker in that very same supermarket. But Eric has never believed that Ben is really gone, and he begins to find weird secrets about the store that seem to point him back towards his brother.
What shines most in this book, and what Auerbach is best at, is developing realistic and enthralling relationships between characters. Don’t get me wrong, the characters themselves are thoughtfully constructed but it is when they bump up into other each other that they truly come to life. Marty, Ben’s coworker and later friend, is far and away the best of the characters, and is actually based on a friend of Auerbach’s who sadly passed away. You can tell there’s a lot of love for this character, and his interactions with Ben as he gets more paranoid really keep the book moving.
Ben himself is a tragic character, desperately trying to find his brother even though he has no idea where to look anymore. As the plot slowly reveals itself, Ben gets more and more paranoid to the point where you do almost wonder if Ben really has more to do with his brother’s disappearance than even he knows. Ben’s relationship with Deidra, his stepmom, is particularly fascinating as their behaviors are erratic in two completely different ways and the constant pull and push between them adds to the tension.
The atmosphere of the book is a slow, creeping kind of darkness that kind of sneaks up on you when you realize how oppressive and hopeless it suddenly feels. Setting the story in a supermarket is ingenious, since everyone can picture a dark, grimy and sketchy grocery store they’ve been unfortunate enough to shop at. Top that with suspicious behavior from several characters, a growing sense of dread as Ben discovers more clues, and the mixing in of some disturbing nightmares, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a creepy read.
Now, I will talk about the ending in detail below, but to be spoiler-free, I can share some thoughts. It definitely comes a little out of left field, which is no necessarily a bad thing. I think if you go in knowing that lots of questions will go unresolved, you can prepare mentally and just enjoy the insanity. Personally, if the twist is good enough, then I will happily take it, and this got pretty close to that for me.
Now, I feel like a lot of people who read the book already have been puzzled by the ending, and I won’t lie, I had to read it twice to sort of grasp the action. Rather than giving us a concrete ending, Auerbach takes us through a nightmare-like sequence featuring the strange unnamed child that we see pop in and out of the story as Beverly’s kin. Turns out, the kid is some sort of sinister, stuttering little monster who somehow kept Beverly ensnared in a sort of game…until he sets her on fire. The heartbreaking part is that this kid takes Ben to Eric,who is afraid of him and attacks him. This makes sense, since he was only three when he first went missing. Then Ben is either kidnapped or dies, and the search for him begins.
We don’t know what the Blackwater school has to do with the plot (if anything), if this little boy is a demon child (that’s my running theory) or something else entirely, if Ben is alive, and if anyone will ever find him or Eric. Though it is cool once you get to the end and then re-read the little story that breaks up the chapters, and realize it was tiny-Satan telling Eric a story.
Bad Man is a well-written novel that takes an unfortunately common situation and then turns it on its head. At 400 pages, the story has time to breath and really get in your head. Your mileage will vary on the ending, but I am still thoroughly impressed with it and can’t wait for another book from Auerbach.
Bad Man is now available at all major retailers.
Bad Man was provided to us by Doubleday. For more information on how we review books and other media/technology, please go review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy.
Book Title: Bad Man
Book Author: Dathan Auerbach
Book Edition: First
Book Format: Hardcover
Date published: 2018-08-07
Number Of Pages: 400
Creepy, Chilling, and a little Confusing
This book is a clear sign that Dathan Auerbach is a name to watch in the literary horror world. While the ending will catch some off guard, the overall atmosphere and excellently crafted relationships make this books a stellar sophomore release,