Halloween is here, and I forgot that I’d signed up for a reading challenge called RIP III. It’s good bookish fun through Halloween, and I joined in because I had the perfect book: Elizabeth Engstrom’s The Northwoods Chronicles.
I hadn’t read a spooky book in awhile, so this was perfect.
Yet, I do have a history with scary fiction. I read my first Stephen King when I was 14, and thereafter spent the rest of adolescence terrifying myself.
I just had a memory: My mother, who was never one to give gifts outside birthday and Christmas, enters my room one night. Picture me cuddled on my waterbed (because I was diagnosed with scoliosis, I swear!) perhaps reading “The Exorcist” or the latest Peter Straub. “I thought you might like to give this book a try,” she says, and hands me a collection of humorous short stories. Humor?!?! I was so far from humor you might as well have nominated me poster-girl for hormonally induced angst, moodiness, and depression!
So, yes, I have a history with the creepy, but I don’t read them much anymore. I’m glad to say that Engstrom’s The Northwoods Chronicles led me through her haunting northwoods universe with a ton of artistry and no gratuitous shlock.
The creepy factor is enhanced by her minimalist writing style. Disappearing children, killer wax statues, murderers, and mermaids inhabit her universe with the same quiet poise as her grieving mothers and college students. It’s all the same reality, and this is a big reason for the creep-factor.
As the cover states, The Northwoods Chronicles is a “novel in stories.” I liked meeting and re-meeting her characters in different contexts. I also liked that she preferred ambiguity over perfect plot bows.
I’ve been interested in the concept of linked short stories for awhile. Reading Engstrom’s novel in stories, I realized that she made it look easy. The secret, as she told me, is to create a full-fledged universe. Her universe fascinates.
(Okay, writing this in front of the telly, Thursday night. Just flipped the channel and found “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Talk about memories: midnight showings, yes, during high school. You’re probably not surprised to know that San Francisco loved its Rocky Horror midnight showings!)