Andersen Prunty’s night people in MORNING IS DEAD are an intriguing breed. They are fornicators and wretches, consumed by violence and sex and all manner of vice. As they “process” deeper into the night, their hopelessness grows and their humanity dims. What makes Prunty’s night different here is that it is populated by radioactive people called “rades”, all-night abortion clinics and its overwhelming clientele, covert technicians who wire homes to detonate, and a police force more dangerous than the worst thugs on the streets. The Dayton, Ohio depicted in MORNING IS DEAD is ruled over by a monolithic company called the Point, which seems to be behind every bad thing that happens to Dayton and its inhabitants, including the protagonist, Alvin Blue.
Alvin and his wife have grown apart and as this realization begins to dawn on him, the night suddenly decides to take him in to be processed, meaning he will never see the daylight, or the morning, again. With no job and no ability to conceive children, Alvin’s usefulness to society seems to be all used up, leaving only his skin, which is valuable to the Point for reasons that won’t be revealed here, lest too much of the story be spoiled.
What most interested me about MORNING IS DEAD is the notion of an alternate reality within the night. Drive through nearly any downtown in America and you see dark places – alleys and corners and buildings that seem different at night. In between these cracks lies another world where many dark things exist, which is what makes Prunty’s night feel all too real and unsettling. What would happen if someone who lives a daytime existence – work from 9-5, normal interactions with others, an employed family man or woman – was suddenly thrust into this other reality, where drugs and prostitution and vice is a way of life? This book examines such a scenario, and does so to dark, imaginative and entertaining results.
The other intriguing theme in MORNING is the town of Dayton itself, a Rust Belt city in Ohio that grew up around manufacturing and the auto industry. Just a couple years ago, GM plant closings near Dayton were called a “death knell” to the town because of how intertwined the company was in so many aspects of life. That vibe is echoed in MORNING and its fictional company, the Point. Though this is not directly discussed in the story, it shows up in clever ways, such as the scene where Alvin inspects the home of a “sleeper” or a person who never wakes during the night. The sleeper, who lives in the daytime and is (presumably) still a productive member of society (no doubt employed by the Point), is what Alvin used to be, but on closer inspection, Alvin sees that the man has begun to rust. He soon discovers he is rusting as well.
All aspects of life tend to ebb and flow through the Point, as is common in manufacturing towns where huge companies can employ as much as half the population, while a great many more are employed indirectly. The same holds true with the Point, which is insidious in its ways of using, and using up, the people of the town until there is nothing left. This is, of course, my opinion of what Prunty was going for here, or at least what I got from it. I could be way off on his intentions with this story, but if nothing else, at least he got me thinking, which is what I love about and look for in good fiction.
MORNING IS DEAD is a dark, disturbing glimpse at an alternate reality that, upon closer inspection, does not seem so farfetched, which makes it all the more unsettling. This was my introduction to Prunty’s work, and I look forward to more from him. His writing is crisp and intelligent, and MORNING IS DEAD is a great example of unsettling horror that relies on ideas and imagination rather than shock value and gimmicks to impart its message and leave a mark. But there’s still plenty of shock and blood and shoot-‘em-up violence in here to make it a tense page-turner, as well. I highly recommend it.