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Friday, October 3, 2014

Horror Review: Haunted Heads & We are Wormwood

Although Haunted Heads has the soul of a good Psychological Ghost Story, I found its execution a little clumsy and sometimes just too forced.

Gary Canup does a great job of setting up the tale, and really hooks the reader's interest with peek at the climax, before turning the clock back to how it all began. While the old 'let's take a walking tour of the grounds' is often an overused device for establishing setting and backstory, here it works, in part because of the family history and the distinct memories the tour evokes for Tyler.

As characters goes, Tyler and Nattie are an interesting couple, but neither one really stands out as an individual. Tyler certainly had potential, but I don't think we ever get deep enough inside his head to understand him, and his descent into madness is too steep and too hurried to really appreciate. The secondary characters are pretty stock, existing more to bring about a breaking point for Tyler than anything else, but Mona was interesting as somebody who crosses levels of both class and intellect, somewhat bridging the friends.

Unfortunately (and here is where the story gets really clumsy) there's an extended philosophical discussion about religion that really grinds the story to a halt. For what it's worth, I agree with a lot of what's discussed, but even I found it too much, too heavy handed. I know it's meant to cast some light on Tyler's situation, but I don't think it was necessary - we already had a pretty good idea of what Canup was trying to say from the discussions between Tyler and Nattie.

Outside of that philosophical discussion, there is some great dialogue here, some well-written depictions of life on the ranch, and some effective narration around Tyler's madness. Like I said, the opening scene is fantastic - powerful, creepy, and strong enough to suck you in - but the climax doesn't quite live up to it, and the denouement is too emotionally weak to tie it all together.

Kindle Edition, 88 pages
Published March 16th 2014


While I always regret shelving a title as DNF, I really feel bad about We are Wormwood. There's absolutely no doubt that Autumn Christian has a plethora of talent displayed upon the page here. In terms of narrative, she has a way with words that is fluid, lyrical, and absolutely dense with imagery. This is the kind of book where you can pour over each paragraph, pick it apart, and find something even darker and more magical in the construction.

The problem is, it's one of those books that (for me, at least) falls into the dreaded 'admire it, but didn't enjoy it' category. That's likely a bit unfair to Christian, and I really hope it doesn't sway anybody else's decision about giving this a read, but it does reflect where my head is at. I've got a lot of sorrow and more stress than you can imagine in my life right now, and I'm looking for entertainment . . . for excitement . . . for escapism.

As much as I appreciate the technical skill with which Christian has built her narrative, the struggle to connect with the plot was just too much to keep me fully engaged to the end. It's a shame, but even after a month of third, fourth, and fifth chances, it's just not something that's working for me right now. Honestly, I do suspect this is an exceptional book, and for those with the patience and curiosity to unravel its strands I wish you all the best.

Kindle Edition, 242 pages
Published July 29th 2013

1 comment:

  1. A deep religious discussion turns me off the first book a bit. Second one, I'd probably agree with you on the prose and need for escapism.

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