“I help those I can. Those who stray into the wood and deserve helping.”
“Do I deserve helping?”
“Of course you do, poor thing. How could you even ask?”
“It seemed easy to ask.”
“You are tired.”
“Some I saw this day were not helped.”
“Not all deserve it. And need to be shown they don’t belong here. That it is no longer their woods. Not anymore.”
i did not like this book until i loved it. it was that quick a reversal.
it can be roughly divided into two sections: before you know what the fuck is going on, and after you (mostly) know what the fuck is going on.
and MAN, is that first part a drag. it’s a kinda-sorta colonial folk-horror with these weird lynchian vibrations running underneath it, just barely discernible. those rumblings were what kept the fingernails of my interest dug in, even when i started to doubt that they were really there; that i wasn’t just making something up to keep me engaged.
the story itself is pretty simple: a woman, answering to the generic olde timey new england ‘name’ goody, leaves her home to pick berries for her man and her son, gets lost in the woods, meets many strange people and experiences many strange things over the course of an indeterminate period of time. lather. rinse. repeat.
in tone, it’s more fairytale than horror-proper—the escalating oddness feels sinister, sure, but it’s decked out like a grimm’s tale; all pastoral bits and pieces with pigs and cows and bonnets and baskets and milk and honey. and yet even nature’s simplest pleasures can be a trap.
The honey was delicious, heavy gold with marks of comb and only here or there a leg or wing or who knows what else that had been pulled into the trickling swamp.
for all the flashes of interesting vibrational horror, there’s so much time spent establishing the more conventional fairytale tropes: the young woman lost in the spooky woods trying to get home, waylaid by an assortment of archetypical characters—human, maybe-human, animals, birds—requesting her to perform obscure tasks, errands, favors, to stay a little longer just a little, little longer etc., and the development of all of that means that the intriguing, unusual stuff is all but smothered under a “been there, done that” hash of fairytale décor and dialogue:
”I must go home when we have finished our meal together.”
“I cannot linger.”
“It must be very pleasant where you live. You must miss all that you have made there.”
“My husband has said that one day we will ring our house with roses and take our drink from golden cups.”
“And does he keep his promises, your good man?”
“As much as any other. We both do.”
“Then of course you can’t linger, Goody,” said Eliza. “Of course you can’t.”
and it goes on like that for a really long time—the parts that aren’t clichéd are confusing, circuitous, contradictory; episodes seemingly surreal for surreal’s sake with no assurance that there’s an actual plot waiting in the wings besides “shit is weird in the woods,” and even though it does get weirder and darker than your average grimmtale:
“What have you given him? What did I give you?”
“You gave me a scream. One grown special in dark water, fed by word, dusted by night.”
“I am letting him warm it for us and show its worth. Let’s see how very loud and lovely we can make him, shall we?”
it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, just round and round down the same old paths, getting the reader as lost in the narrative as goody is lost in these woods, which mirroring is itself a literary cliché.
oh but THEN. then we are allowed into the WHY of it all and those vibrational rumblings crack the ground open with CONFIDENCE and you are the reader going WWWWOOOOAAAAAAHHHHH!! as you are toppled over with a firehose spray of exposition.
and it is rad.
rad but still slightly murky. do i understand ALL of this tiny little novel? nope. i love what i do understood, and what i don’t will stay with me as an intriguing mental residue that will be as pleasurable to contemplate as would be knowing all the answers.
The world, I told him, was a grand thing as long as you stepped straight and kept to your course. If you did not, the world would hurt you. Or it would make you hurt yourself. He said he knew that already. I told him he did not know it in the way that I did.
tryna sneak one more horror read in under the month’s end!
CLOSE ENOUGH! REVIEW TO COME!!