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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

31 Days of Horror: Day 17 Review and Giveaway of Wood

Yesterday, Robert Dunbar was guest on the blog.  Today I will offer a review of his novella, Wood.

But first, Dunbar is offering a free ebook of Wood to readers of this blog.  If you are interested, please email me at zombiegrl75[at]gmail[dot]com with "Wood" in the subject heading and you will be entered to win.  Deadline for submissions is Saturday 10/20 at 5 PM cdt.  I will notify the winner Saturday night and Dunbar will get in touch with you to send you the book.

Now the review...

I am a big fan of Robert Dunbar, and here is why.  He consistently writes tales that are high in fear and not gratuitous in gore.  He also employs a conversational style with humor, even when characters are in a fight for their lives.  But it is in his descriptions that Dunbar excels. He sets the stage so well, describing everything and every character with detail that somehow does not come off as wordy.  This description adds to the anxiety and eerie frame that take over his stories.

Dunbar also probes the idea of "the monster" in all his works.  He does not have zombies, vampires, or werewolves.  His monsters are almost more frightening because they are not easily identifiable.  He also often looks to myths and folklore for his monsters.  For example, in his first novel, The Pines (a must buy for every public library) he looks at the mythological New Jersey Devil for inspiration.  From my book:
In the mysterious and desolate New Jersey Pine Barrens, a legendary monster, the Jersey Devil, is on the loose.  This is a traditional story of a monster on the prowl in an isolated setting, but Dunbar manages to keep the plot and action fresh, frightening, and fun.  Do not go camping soon after reading this book.
Wood is true to Dunbar's proven style as outlined above.  Wood is also a novella which means it is shorter than a novel, but longer than a story.  The novella is a great format for the horror story.  First, it is long enough to develop meaningful characters that the reader cares about; characters they don't want to see die; characters that when they are pursued by monsters, the reader gets afraid. This is the key to creating an atmosphere of terror in the story, but it is sadly something many horror authors are not very good at.  Second, it is short enough that you can't get too scared.  You can read it in one sitting, close the book, shake off a few shivers, and go back to your day.  A perfect taste of the terrifying.

For the public librarian during the Halloween season, novellas (and to a lesser extent short stories) are a great option for our patrons who do not usually read horror, but want to try something scary this month to get into the Halloween spirit.  Stories often lack the character depth that novel readers are searching for (this is a common complaint I get at the library), but with a novella, a horror novice will get the character depth and the scares he or she is looking for.

Back to Wood in particular. The set up is classic for the monster story: a girl, just escaped from a juvenile detention center encounters a monster while on the run.  She seeks shelter from another outcast, Dick, who lives on the edge of the woods.  Together, these well developed characters, outsiders both, battle and control the monster.

The multiple points of view here include the monster's.  The shifting narration adds to the unsettling atmosphere which is one of the main reasons people read horror in the first place--to feel unsettled.  Seeing the monster's thoughts is a great addition here.

There is an overriding message of environmentalism is the story too.  Maybe we humans are encroaching too much on nature and as a result, we are disturbing things that are better left alone.  The ending definitely underscores this.  The immediate threat of the monster has been handled for now, but in the woods, there may be a new threat rising.  May be we should just stay where we are.

The Woods may be under 100 pages, but it packs a punch.  I would highly suggest it for anyone who wants to try Dunbar for the first time or for anyone looking for a terrifying story that they can read in a sitting or two.  Just don't plan any excursions in the forest preserve anytime soon.

Three Words That Describe This Book: unsettling, shifting point of view, humor

Readalikes: I want to begin with 2 books I thought of right away:

  • Castaways by Brian Keene because of its tongue in cheek humor, monster's point of view, and ominousness.  Click here for a full review.
  • Pine Deep Trilogy by Jonathan Maberry because together, the three books in this series make up the most compelling and terrifying monster story I have ever read.  The series tells the story of the residents of Pine Deep, PA, who thirty years ago vanquished a serial killer known as ‘The Reaper.’  Since then, the town has seen peace and fame as the Halloween capital of America. But as the series opens on another Halloween season, a new supernatural evil lurks on the outskirts of town, waiting to finish what The Reaper began. Click here to access a review of the first book in the series-- Ghost Road Blues.
A few of my other monster favorites that are described at length in the book and would fit as readalike suggestions are:
  • Dweller by Jeff Strand (monster in woods befriends a young boy)
  • The Woods Are Dark by Richard Laymon (much more violent, but a classic horror tale of the monsters that lurk in the woods)
  • Ancestor by Scott Sigler (for those who like the environmental themes; this one is a cautionary tale about biotechnology)

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