Review: Dark Eden by Patrick Carmen

Dark Eden
Patrick Carmen

HarperCollins Children's Books (2011)
336 pages
YA / Suspense / Vaguely Horror

Order it from Amazon

Upon finishing Patrick Carmen’s Dark Eden, I was left with a similar feeling I usually get after watching a foreign science fiction movie with subtitles: there was something about this that I just did not get. I walked away knowing what happened, being able to describe the plot of the book, but it just felt like there was something I missed, whether it be a deeper subtext or the point of the book altogether. It was weird. I don’t often have that feeling when reading.

Dark Eden is about fear, particularly the paralyzing fears of a small group of teenagers who are sent to some strange compound in the woods where they’re supposed to be treated and “cured” of their various phobias. The story is narrated by Will Besting, who is afraid of people. Because of this, he doesn’t willingly go to the compound and instead hides in a basement bomb shelter he finds that conveniently has a entire wall of monitors with cameras that turn on and off inside the other rooms of the building as important events happen. One by one the other kids get cured and Will fulfills his voyeuristic desires to be a part of something without actually having to interact with anyone. Meanwhile he starts to think something is seriously wrong with the treatment methods of the mysterious doctor onsite.

That’s because something seriously wrong is happening. Dark Eden is kind of weird. It’s told in sections, the majority of which are named after the teenager whose fear is being treated as Will watches from his underground bunker. It’s a difficult book to review without plot spoilers because it is so tightly interwoven. Will’s narration has a sense of paranoia enclosed within nearly every line. This is a boy that lives inside his head as a defense mechanism for whatever trauma left him afraid of people and his inner narration shows that. It’s a bit claustrophobic in scope and, as someone who is a bit on the claustrophobic side, it added to the atmosphere of the entire thing and made it all that much creepier.

Patrick Carmen has crafted an insanely quick read that seems tailor-made for a movie, sort of a young adult suspense film. I flew through this book in a couple of hours, never really knowing what was going to happen next. I honestly had no idea where Carmen was going with this story at any point within the novel, which is a rarity. This is a unique work that didn’t exactly surprise me or throw in any plot twists, but let me ride alongside it while the story unfolded. At the end I felt like the story turned out in the only manner it could have possibly ended.

What drew me to Dark Eden was the multi-media component that was released simultaneously with the book last year. The entire story is told in videos, audio snippets and diary entries (which seem to be lifted straight from the book) that, at least for the first section, craft an exact replica of the novel in a more visual medium. I was a little disappointed after having viewed the free material that re-tells the first section of the novel. I was hoping for added details or additional material, not just the same material spoken or filmed as is on the page. I didn’t spend money to purchase any of the other sections. I suppose it’s a new form of audiobook and not truly supplementary to the book at all.

Overall I was disappointed to see that the book has a sequel coming out soon featuring the same set of characters. The story within Dark Eden felt completely finished. I could understand perhaps having a sequel involving a new group of teenagers with different paralyzing fears and different consequences, but I feel my journey with Will and his new found friends is complete. And yet I still have this feeling that I missed something...