A Dark, Beautiful Fairytale

Author: Laird Hunt

Once upon a time, long, long ago a woman goes into the dark forest to pick berries for her husband and son only to get lost. Known only by the title of an average old timey wife and mother, “Goody” seeks the road home. Along the way she encounters progressively weirder sights and finally an old woman in a small house who grants her respite, comfort, and bizarre dreams of magic and dark things in the forest.  As Goody works her way through the surreal landscape, puzzling together her quest, an ancient scream at the bottom of a well, and double-edged promises, a fairy tale dreamscape unspools, half lovely and half desiccated, dark things walking in light and speaking in somber lyrics. What does it all mean, and will Goody ever find her way back to her man and their boy? In the end, once Goody learns the secrets of the forest and the guardian with her ship made of bones, will she want to return? Does the horror hold a certain kind of freeing power, a better bargain than that of housewife who picks berries and knows of strange things in the heart of an ancient wood where only a few can roam freely?

In the House in the Dark of the Woods is a strange, surreal book, half nightmare and half song. Even when we are perplexed – what is this quest where illusions trip over primal powers and supernatural agreements – something continues to pull us, to lull with gentle words and disturbing imagery. The novel really has two parts: Goody’s confusing journey, her fairytale like naivety and simple desire to return home, and the final revelation which, although unclear, has a darker, more pointed subtext that unwinds the truth of Goody’s home and the despair of choices and necessity of betrayal. Not all of it makes sense, but that is actually good. It leaves the reader with so much to puzzle out, thoughts hidden in images, hidden in ancient sounds like the bending of old tree limbs, and subtle, barbed points about the secret lives of “good” wives and mothers.

Even beyond the shape of the story, the mere telling is a pleasure. There is the hint of a spell here, a flow that prods our darkest subconscious and calls to something wild and imaginative in us all, something that knows no restraints and accepts all things, the magic in the earth and the depths of what a person is capable of. It’s heady – certainly an acquired taste – but if you feel yourself drawn to a land of fable where witches walk the woods and kindly men host creepy basements full of horrors, then look no farther. In the House in the Dark of the Woods is a literary horror lover’s dream come true, a mélange of everything spooky and beautiful with just the right amount of olden times layered into the story of a good wife and mother who goes on an extraordinary journey and finds a power and malignance buried in her own darkened soul. You won’t ever look at the woods or deep, dark wells quite the same again, or even the secrets of a quite family. Highly recommended.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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