Something is out there, something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse of it, and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.
Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remains, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now that the boy and girl are four, it’s time to go, but the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat—blindfolded—with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. Something is following them all the while, but is it man, animal, or monster?
I started and stopped a lot when it came to this book. It just couldn’t draw me in, and one reason for it, I think, was how it flip-flopped back and forth between the past and the present.
I’m still undecided on how I feel about that. On the one hand, I felt like it sacrificed story-telling to build suspense. We already knew the outcome: Malorie ended up in the house with only two children. The question of why pervaded the past chapters of the story, making it the driving force. All the characterization, all the scares, all the suspense drove to answer the one question: why is she now all alone in this house?
It might be a spoiler (or if you’ve seen the trailer for the Netflix movie, then it might not be) but she originally arrives to a house full of people. They run the gauntlet for how well they’re handling the situation, and at first, their is cohesiveness in the fact that they’re survivors. But that begins to breakdown. Not surprising, given that it’s a horror novel (and what’s more terrifying than humans going bonkers) but I’m not sure that I appreciated knowing the end before I got there.
To me, it tainted the past chapters. All the characters felt flat because I knew there wasn’t anything for them. And sure, that might be a nihilistic viewpoint to take on it, but it still stifled my emotional connection to the characters. Why become invested in a person when I knew they won’t be alive in a few hours? (I’m a fast reader and this book didn’t take me too long to work through!)
Also, I wasn’t sure the purpose behind naming her children Girl and Boy. Was it to limit her emotional connection with them? Was it to teach them what a girl and a boy were? I haven’t a clue, other than it tried to hide from the readers the events in the past. But then, if that was Malerman’s intent, why waffle back and forth in a horror novel, when most people can already guess that something bad happened to everyone?
Overall, the writing was solid and the story (once I managed to get into the thick of it) was compelling. I did enjoy it. But by playing with the past versus present in the chapters, by giving away the ending to one half the story, I felt as if I didn’t connect with this book as well as I could have. I give it 4 out of 5 stars!