“Once upon a time there was and there wasn’t a woman who went to the woods.”
In this dark fairy tale set in colonial New England, an unnamed puritan woman sets out in the forest to pick some berries for her husband and little boy. She does not return. Perhaps she’s lost. Or perhaps she’s fleeing her tyrannical husband and eerily quiet son. Lost, alone, and injured, she is rescued by a woman – Captain Jane – wrapped in the pelt of a wolf. She takes the Goody to Eliza’s charming stone cottage. But in the house in the dark of the woods, all is not as it seems.
On the surface, this is the story of a woman who is lost, wandering in the woods. She is a wife and mother, she wants to return to her family. Page by page, her journey gets darker the deeper she goes into the woods. She runs into things both fair and foul, beautiful and strange. Hunt’s prose is meandering and lyrical, with searing descriptions.
“Its scratch was like the dry sparking of a flint and a page with fresh marks on it like a blazing porcupine. A tale written down must be like that, I thought. It must be like the block of wood of the body sprouting tiny tongues of fire and who knows where the next one will rise and burn.”
Laird Hunt’s novel is filled with a dream-like terror – beautiful, huge swarms of insects, a water well most foul, a ship made of skin and bones, a watchful master – and filled with witches. Yet it is not terrifying. Is it filled with a building, pervasive dread? Yes. Does it frighten? Yes. This chilling fairy tale is tempered by its lovely, quiet prose and the slow revelation of the nature of these complicated women. In the House in the Dark of the Woods will haunt you, but you might just be grateful. Highly recommended.
*I received review copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion.