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December 30, 2018

Review: In the House in the Dark of the Woods by Laird Hunt

“Once upon a time there was and there wasn’t a woman who went to the woods.”

In this horror story set in colonial New England, a law-abiding Puritan woman goes missing. Or perhaps she has fled or abandoned her family. Or perhaps she’s been kidnapped, and set loose to wander in the dense woods of the north. Alone and possibly lost, she meets another woman in the forest. Then everything changes.

On a journey that will take her through dark woods full of almost-human wolves, through a deep well wet with the screams of men, and on a living ship made of human bones, our heroine may find that the evil she flees has been inside her all along. The eerie, disturbing story of one of our perennial fascinations–witchcraft in colonial America–In the House in the Dark of the Woods is a novel of psychological horror and suspense told in Laird Hunt’s characteristically lyrical prose style. It is the story of a bewitching, a betrayal, a master huntress and her quarry. It is a story of anger, of evil, of hatred and of redemption. It is the story of a haunting, a story that makes up the bedrock of American mythology, but told in a vivid way you will never forget.

In the House in the Dark of the Woods
by Laird Hunt
Publication Date:  October 16, 2018
Publisher:  Little, Brown and Company

 

 

I was eager to get into the a Halloween mood by picking up a horror novel.  Laird Hunt’s The House in the Dark of the Woods looked like the perfect pick. A piece of historical fiction that promises frights and thrills? Count me in! I was so, so excited to get reading, and was hopeful that this novel would fulfill my desire for something spooky.

              The House in the Dark of the Woods did remind me a lot of The Crucible given the setting. It’s set in colonial America, with a protagonist who is commonly referred to simply as ‘Goody’. From the very beginning, The House in the Dark of the Woods gave off the vibe of an aged folktale—the novel’s prose is very concise and phrased to sound true to the setting. I don’t know the best way to describe it, but the way that The House in the Dark of the Woods is written is fairly unique, and I could respect that. It wasn’t exactly my preference, but that’s a personal issue.

              Going into The House in the Dark of the Woods, readers are thrust into a mysterious world where everything is clearly not what it seems. As we follow the protagonist through the woods where everything is foreboding and ominous, it felt to me that we were owed explanations that would come later on in the novel. Who was Eliza? What was the House in the woods? Who were the people that our protagonist continues to encounter? Why is everything painted to be so dark and disturbing? As I read on, I soon realized that the majority of questions that arise in the novel go unanswered.

              Scene-for-scene, I would say that The House in the Dark of the Woods is an interesting piece. There were a handful of chapters that I found genuinely frightening and thrilling, but for the most part, I felt confused and detached from the story. I wasn’t particularly interested in the narrator or her story, and I was more concerned with receiving explanations about the plot. The ending felt abrupt and, again, went without any clear explanations. I understand that this was supposed to be a literary horror story, but I felt that that doesn’t make up for the lack of clarity in the narrative.

              For any readers who are perhaps more easily spooked than I am (and bigger fans of historical settings as opposed to contemporary ones) The House in the Dark of the Woods might be a great fit. Any readers who are looking for a novel that is a quick read with bizarre happenings might also enjoy it.

 

About Laird Hunt

Laird Hunt is an American writer, translator and academic.

Hunt grew up in Singapore, San Francisco, The Hague, and London before moving to his grandmother's farm in rural Indiana, where he attended Clinton Central High School. He earned a B.A. from Indiana University and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University. He also studied French literature at the Sorbonne. Hunt worked in the press office at the United Nations while writing his first novel. He is currently a professor in the Creative Writing program at University of Denver. Hunt lives with his wife, the poet Eleni Sikelianos, in Boulder, Colorado.

 

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