It has been quite some time since I have read any “modern” horror novels. Back in my younger years I was quite a fan of Stephen King, but as I got older my reading tastes changed to literature and history with the occasional novel or book of short stories thrown in for variety. Recently I was alerted to the fact that a Miramichi resident (who has since moved to Saint John) has written a book that I should take a look at. I was able to get a review copy of Finding Woods by Matt Mott (2014, Montag Press) from the author himself. On the back cover is a review quote I thought was interesting:
Finding Woods is a tough, unflinching collection of smart horror”- Eden Robinson, author of Traplines and Monkey Beach.
Smart horror as opposed to dumb horror, like all those Saturday matinée b-movies I watched and cheap horror magazines such as Weird, Eerie and Creepy that I read as a teen. Oh, there were some good tales in them, but they definitely lacked in intelligence. Then I started reading Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft whose stories, although written in a past age, had (and still have) the innate ability to worm their way into the mind and make you ponder the possibilities of the imagination. Matt Mott pays tribute to those master storytellers in Finding Woods.
Three Smart Stories
At first read, what appears as three separate stories are really one, although each one can exist independent of the other.
“And a Full Glass of Milk”, the first story concerns the Terriault family in Miramichi, who are still dealing with the drowning death of the mother, Nancy. The oldest son Riley can “see” his mother, still soaking wet with seaweed in her hair, but his father Leon is in permanent denial and prays the Our Father over and over at a shrine he has built in the living room. He thinks she is still upstairs, asleep.
The trees first catch Riley’s attention as he hitch-hikes home to Miramichi on a Halloween night (wearing a priest costume of all things) from Fredericton after quitting university:
“… the sheer vitality of the trees along the road stood out the most … He [Riley] must have grown up looking at those trees. And still they seemed so new. The branches creaked and rustled and looked hungry.”
Thereafter, the trees are a major theme (a minor theme is water), and you will soon be “finding woods” throughout the book.
The second story, “Playing with Rebecca”, had me confused (not a difficult thing at the best of times) within the first few paragraphs. There are actually four different voices telling the story of a young boy, Kevin, and his imaginary playmate Rebecca. Once you sort out who (or what) is speaking, the tale gets somewhat easier to follow. The story is actually based around the folkloric legend of Rebecca Lutes, who, (as the story goes) was hanged in Moncton back in 1876 for being a witch. Incidentally, Rebecca’s house in this story reminds me of the “Shunned House” in the H.P. Lovecraft short story of the same name: malformed, sickly foliage growing around the house, the healthy trees keeping a safe distance away, and strange molds growing on and within the decaying building. Then there’s Winifred the rat …
The last story, “17 Reasons Why I Rinse” brings us back to Miramichi where the aforementioned trees are now gradually taking over the city; whole streets and buildings are disappearing without anyone noticing, except Jaimie the shower-loving female protagonist of the story. Oh, and there is a serial killer called the Orange Man who is on the loose …
A Startling Good Read
Telling any more about the stories or their interconnectedness would be to spoil the fun of reading this startling good read from this New Brunswick author. I already mentioned one Lovecraft reference, but there is another one I found as well. There is also an apparent tip of the hat to Hitchcock for the Orange Man’s real name is Anthony Perkins. You may find more references to other authors unfamiliar to me. Once I discovered that there were connections between each of the three stories, I went back and read the book a second time, even marking down in the margins some cross-references. It was actually fun to re-read it and find all the Easter-eggs, so to speak.
If this is “smart horror” then you would be smart to get a copy of Finding Woods. You may never look at trees the same again.
Matt Mott is from the Miramichi, but now he lives in Saint John, where he writes down the monsters he meets down by the harbour. He has taught for the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton and College of North Atlantic, Labrador City and is the Communications Officer for the James M. Hill Alumni Association. His poetry appears in The Antigonish Review #168, he was shortlisted for The Malahat Review 2012 Novella Prize, and his fiction has earned a number of Honourable Mentions in Glimmer Train Press fiction contests. Finding Woods is his debut collection and is available through any Chapters branch or online through Small Press Distributions or Amazon.ca
While not a New Brunswicker by birth, James M. Fisher has lived in Miramichi for over seven years and feels quite at home there. James is an ardent reader whose aim is to highlight New Brunswick authors and publishers, as well as cover subjects of interest to New Brunswickers in particular and Maritimers in general. For more visit his website or like his page on Facebook.