Sunday, February 26, 2012

Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman (2011)

My book club (go DAFFODILS!) has been exploring different kinds of genre fiction, and our latest selection is the contemporary horror novel Those Across the River by debut author Christopher Buehlman (2011).

It's 1935 and Frank and Eudora Nichols just moved from Chicago down to a small town in Georgia where Frank has inherited a house from an aunt he never met. In her will she warns him to just sell the house and take the money, but he lost his job at the University and Eudora was offered a teaching job at the local school, so with no other options they head south. Frank plans to write a history of his great-grandfather, a legendarily cruel slave owner who refused to free his slaves after the war and who was ultimately killed by them.

The people in the town are relatively welcoming to Frank, and even more welcoming to his witty and beautiful wife, but the town has been hit hard by the Depression and the people are weary. To save money, the town votes to stop the tradition of sending a group of pigs out into the creepy woods on the other side of the river once a month -- it's something that was started generations ago, and no one can remember why they do it. It seems silly to waste good and valuable pork on a silly tradition, right? Unfortunately for the town, there is something very hungry across the river, and if it doesn't get pigs, it will have to hunt something else.

The plot of Those Across the River is compelling and well paced, and while I figured some things out as I was reading, there were some satisfying twists that surprised me. The thing that kept this book from being really really good is Buehlman's dialogue, particularly between Frank and Eudora -- it is stilted, goofy, and irritating where his prose is engaging, descriptive, and propelling. It took a little work to get through the first dialogue-heavy chapters, but if you stick with it, it definitely gets better.

Overall this is an imaginative addition to the horror genre with some genuinely creepy scenes, a fast pace, and even some rather funny bits. One line in particular made me laugh out loud, although its a little spoiler-y so I'll put it after the jump:

"If there is anything worse than being attacked by a huge, supernatural wolf, it must be being attacked by a very powerful naked man who believes he's a wolf." (p. 347)

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