Publication date: October 16, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Horror, Literary, Mystery
Halloween may be over but the advancing winter weather still makes a perfect backdrop for creepy reading. Last week I wrote about Killing Commendatore, a Japanese novel that was oddly unsettling, but today I have another book that has truly left me flummoxed. It’s Laird Hunt’s In the House in the Dark of the Woods and the title is almost longer than the book. It’s the story of a woman, Goody, in colonial New England who sets out from her house to pick berries as a treat for her husband and son. She advances further into the woods than planned and after falling asleep is unable to find her way out. From there, her journey becomes a surreal blend of reality and horror ala the Grimm Brothers.
I’m seldom at a loss for words about a book, but I honestly don’t know how to summarize In the House. It seems to be a very real journey, but is being lost an accident or a conscious decision? Goody is rescued and lead, not out of the woods, but to a house where she can recover. A woman there heals her, but also seems determined not to let her leave. When she does finally escape, her encounters become even more fantastical, with the feeling of a quest, but for what? Rather than answering questions, the novel leads the reader into ever darker and more dangerous woods. Woods populated with characters named Captain Jane, Granny Someone, and Red Boy and terrifying sights like a boat made out of bones, a well filled with water made up of screams.
As Goody goes through her bizarre travels her mind also moves back to her real life and her thoughts are as conflicted and confusing as her experiences. Hunt’s atmospheric prose mimics the woods themselves so there are no guideposts or paths—characters are both demons and angels, places are safe and a trap, emotions are kind and brutal. In this way, In the House plays with the reader and nothing is what it seems.
What is certain is Hunt’s way with words. Just as he fully inhabited a female soldier’s life as a man during the Civil War in Neverhome (which I loved) he again depicts women from the past in ways that are wildly creative and unexpected. In the House feels like part fable and part Zen koan—the type of reading so textured and mysterious that every interpretation of it says more about the reader than the author. For me, it was bewitching and left me questioning and curious.
I had swum down a well and flown through the air and set the world to roasting, but a sharp blade is its own sweet journey.