Inside most human animals lurks a potential monster. A latent tender. A tiny grain of darkness that lies dormant, encapsulated by the civilities of law and order, religion, and the love and tolerance most people have for one another. But history has shown us through the centuries that when times get tough, the shell that protects us from our own darkness erodes, igniting our bad sides. This is the inner conflict with our protagonist, Jack Duncan.
While writing A Dark Country I kept the following line in my head: “I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That’s my dream; that’s my nightmare. Crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight razor… and surviving”. The line is from Colonel Kurtz in the movie Apocalypse Now, which is, as most of you know, an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s brilliant novella, Heart of Darkness. This one line from Francis Ford Coppola’s movie sums up Jack Duncan’s internal conflict. He knows what he’s doing. He knows that at least some of it is wrong, some of it might catch up with him in a bad way…but he does it anyway. Sometimes good people are forced into a situation where they have to do bad things.
Throughout Jack Duncan’s physical quest he is crossing back and forth from his tranquil domestic life at home with his family in rural Montana, to his secret life guiding super-wealthy sociopathic type men with a desire to hunt a human being. Dark right? Yet Duncan is really just a family man trying to make more for his wife and kids. In doing so he gets in farther than he wants, but by the time he realizes it, it’s too late. And he’s at odds with himself over it. He knows that even though the men they hunt are bad men, and killing them is probably doing the world a service, it’s still wrong on some level. Throughout the story he justifies his dark behavior to his civilized side in a variety of ways.
His partner and nemesis on the other hand, James Beck, seems unaffected, unquestioning about the killing. Unlike Beck, Duncan debates his own inner darkness and even begins to wonder if he’s more like his nemesis (whom Duncan considers entirely evil) than he originally thought.
By the end of his journey Duncan has to reach to the depths of his dark side in the hope it will get him to the far end, and home to his family. But nobody gets through life unscathed, especially in a novel.
My next couple posts will talk a little about the characters in the story.