5 out of 5 Cursed Stars
Holy shit. I can’t think of a better way to start this. This is probably my new favorite horror novel, actually asking Bird Box to move aside and make room on the shelf. Because. Oh. My. God.
The town of Black Spring is cursed. Whoever is born there, is doomed to stay ’til death. Whoever settles, never leaves. What a way to keep the population constant, eh? Of course, staying means visits from the neighborhood haunt… so you might want to think before you sign on the dotted line. She’s a 350 year old witch named Katherine Van Wylder, dressed in a gross old dress, her arms chained to her clothes, her mouth and eyes sewn shut, the corner of her mouth, where one stitch has loosened, ever whispering. You definitely don’t want to get too close, because of the smell, and you don’t want the whispering to get into your head. And don’t plan any long vacations. You might not live long enough to make it home.
Understand, this isn’t a legend. It’s not a rumor. It’s not a bit of folklore. If you want proof positive of the paranormal, go to Black Spring and buy a house or rent an apartment. You’ll get all the footage you want. There’s cameras everywhere, keeping constant vigilance over Katherine and her location. She may even show up in your kitchen and hang out for a couple days. You can find out where she’s at on your government supplied iPhone and a handy little app. But you won’t be posting your footage on the internet. You won’t breath a word to your friends from out of town. Because your communication with the outside world is watched and there are rules about Katherine. A division called HEX works with the council to make sure that everybody toes the line. That’s the start of the problem.
Tyler is a really smart kid. Which makes what happens all the more tragic. He and his friends want the town, to use their words, “to come out of the closet.” They hope if the world comes in, someone somewhere might find an answer. But the town knows that every time the outside world has come into it, there have been horrific circumstances. Because at some point, someone is gonna wanna open the witch’s eyes. Tyler knows opening her eyes would be a death sentence, but he thinks scientific investigation would help solve solve the problem that is Katherine. So he and his friends start a series of operations to find the nature of Katherine’s curse. But one of them has a grudge against Katherine beyond what the other boys feel, and he has his own ideas about what they are going to investigate. And all hell breaks loose.
At first, Katherine seems like an everyday, rather ho hum haunting. I mean, people just cover her up when she appears in their house. But she’s creepy as fuck. This is absolutely the scariest thing I’ve ever read, and I don’t get scared that easily by books. Movies are another thing – I hardly ever watch them anymore, because I live alone. I’m glad I didn’t dream about her, but this will stay with you. The images are so haunting. There are times when you aren’t entirely sure what is going on – if the characters are actually seeing these things described – are they images put there by Katherine or their own imagination. Some characters are more mentally frayed, and might be imagining things. But it’s just terrifying.
Tyler’s dad and his family are the crux of the story, but this has some layers. There are only a few main point of view characters, none of them terribly memorable, but its the things going on a in a horror story rather than the characters that grab you. Not that you don’t care about what happens to them – you do. I often do a character rundown when I do a review, but there’s not that much to talk about here. Despite the main focus characters, you really do get a sense of the whole town. This explores everything from the importance of social media, communication and technology to the lack of it. The dangers of mob mentality, superstition is a huge theme, how it connects with religious fanaticism and old world myth. This is written by a Dutch author and originally took place in a little Dutch town. The novel was translated and moved to America, and the book was actually rewritten with a new ending. The American history of how we treat our witches made it feel like it was meant to be set here. Heuvelt reworked the last few chapters, and they integrated the American psyche into it- and did such a wonderful job. America has a huge connection to the old world, and Dutch colonies and laws had a huge impact on early America. It’s a seemless integration. This felt very small town America.
And by that, you can assume I mean white. This does have one Turkish family, who face a lot of racism and whose boy is involved in some of the shenanigans that endanger the town. I wouldn’t say the boy was demonized, because one of the main characters is really surprised at his sudden defection to the dark side – it’s not something that would have been expected from this boy. This family, despite the fact their son was only marginally involved faces the most ire from the town. I don’t think there is a single black family. A mentally unstable man is allowed to die in jail – but of course, nearly everyone is mentally unstable in this town. But that is part of the horror, more of a plot point than an attempt to include mental illness in the populace. There is one mention of a character being gay – but mostly, it’s a story about the able-bodied, straight Whitey McWhitersons and their able-bodied, straight white neighbors. I’m not saying it’s a bad book, but America is a diverse place. If you are going to set something in America, there should be more diversity, even in a small town.
There’s so much I can’t tell you because I don’t want to ruin any of this for you. It’s such a wonderful mix of modern and old world, it’s like an American story, haunted by the old world, informed by the new – and isn’t that America? Minus the diversity.