I’ve decided to do another book review and you can’t stop me. Not sure if I’ve mentioned on this blog my love for graphic novels/comics/picture books…whatever you want to call them. I love the art and design and that they feel like watching a silent film. Also a disproportionate number of graphic novelists seem to enjoy telling creepy, dark, surreal stories, though perhaps these types of stories magically find me no matter the format. Creepy book of the week is Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods.
It’s a collection of short stories, all of which I would describe as dark fairy tales taking place in different historical periods. These are stories about things lurking in the woods, dysfunctional relationships, ghosts, madness, betrayal, and murder. Unlike many fairy tales we tell to children, no one is going to help in the end and, in fact, other people are most likely actively plotting to destroy you. Assuming, of course, that they are actually human. (So…realistic fiction, essentially.)
Most of the stories are quite short, and Carroll teases us with some details but ultimately leaves a lot of ambiguity. What is great is that the stories continue to surprise even with the building sense of dread and inevitability. I basically love all of the drawings, but the best/eeriest are black, white, and red. There are several images that will haunt my dreams.
My favorite is the last story, but even the fucking epilogue I love, and when the fuck can you ever say you love an epilogue? The last story is the longest, and I felt I could really sink my teeth into it. It follows Bell, a young woman in the 1920s whose mother has recently passed away. After her year at boarding school ends, she goes to stay with her brother and his fiancée in the country. Bell would like to stay inside and read all summer, but her brother is intolerably cheerful and outdoorsy, encouraging her to spend time outside and to get to know his fiancée. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bell discovers the fiancée has a much darker secret than a cupboard full of overdue library books. All I’m going to say is that you will probably shrink in terror from the next flapper you see (if you regularly encounter flappers).
The only disappointing thing is how quickly you can get through this book, and Carroll doesn’t have any other collections of her work, and she is apparently busy being a Twitter goddess. Sample tweets: “next time I sit down to read another Classic Must-Read Horror Book by a dude, I’m just going to save myself the trouble & do anything else.” Also “let me guess, is there a sexy evil woman in it? how about a shrew? fellas, if that was scary I’d scream every time I looked in the mirror.” We get it, Emily Carroll. You’re really cool and probably an interesting person to talk to. Get back to work. EDIT: Emily Carroll does have quite a few comics you can read for free on her site: http://www.emcarroll.com/ Girl apparently just picked up some Eisner Awards for Through the Woods and her short story “When the Darkness Presses.”
Before I go, I’m not fucking kidding. Haunting my dreams (and wait until you see what happens to those teeth):
Carroll’s stories, most of which are about young women encountering sinister, otherworldly creatures, remind me a lot of Libba Bray’s novels, and I would follow that woman into battle. As the epilogue reminds us, “you must be lucky to avoid the wolf every time…but the WOLF…the WOLF only needs enough luck to find you ONCE.” Through the Woods is like that too: full of fragments, stories, and images that are beautifully disquieting. Disquietingly beautiful? All of the above. Yes.