Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 2021
Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: spousal abuse, spousal rape (off screen but implied), brainwashing, gaslighting, body horror, kidnapping, and gore
This is by far one of the saddest horror novels I have ever read. In this wintery, mountainside tail, we get deep inside the mind of Mattie, wife to an abusive husband named William and who lives in a cabin with literally no other human contact. Then a mysterious beast leaves behind a mutilated bear, and William will stop at nothing to kill it. Strangers come around in search of the same creature and Mattie’s world might not be all as it appears.
It is a heart-wrenching exploration of reclaiming identity and fighting back against an abusive husband while also opening up and learning to trust strangers and your own instincts. And yes, there is plenty of body horror and gore, but those are not the fears to be found in this game of cat-and-mouse between humans and a beast.
The pacing here is simply superb. With the creeping dread of the snowy woods around the cabin comes the unsettling feeling of always being watched. Henry really dug deep into the psyche of a young woman who has been tortured by the man who swears to care for his wife.
The timing of the setting is appropriately vague because Mattie knows so little about the world beyond their cabin. The reveal comes slowly, ramping up as the tension and need for survival also increase. The energy of the work is so consistent, but it is also so heartbreaking. There are mysteries upon mysteries but Henry expertly unravels them all.
What struck me the most was how Mattie’s interiority and the gaslighting that occurs in an abusive relationship came up as a mirror with her interactions with the hikers. It is brilliantly done and most of the reason why I think this work is so melancholy. It leaves the reader with a sense of longing for something better, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
I really can’t say much else because of spoilers, but the ending is hopeful, but the journey there feels like dragging oneself through the snow as a beast stalks in the dark.
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