by Kelli Owen
Thunderstorm Books (2011)
A little while back I won a signed copy of this Thunderstorm Books novella by up-and-coming author, Kelli Owen, from the Dreadful Tales (a great blog I've been visiting before it even went by that name). It was one of only 150 hard copies published, so if you can't get your hands on one of them, you'll have to bide your time for a digital release or something. Anyway ...
If you grew up in a very small town then this novella will strike a chord with you from the get-go. Everyone knows everyone else's business, in part because the town offers so little by way of distractions the townsfolk are left with no choice but to turn their attentions on each other. Gossip abounds, especially among the young.
In Kelli's story, the town's name is Neillsville and a teenage girl has gone missing. She's presumed by some to be a runaway, while others seem to revel in the idea she was murdered. Suspicions especially focus on the registered pedophile living in town. The town has no shortage of residents who become the usual suspects whenever something shady happens. It's like cow patty bingo: hardly high-brow entertainment, but if you win you feel like you accomplished something.
The story is told predominantly through the eyes of the town's children and teens. One boy discovers a piece of a finger, which his mother later finds in his jeans while doing laundry--explain that one to mommy dearest. A girl warily suspects the family cat has been killed by her sister. And a bus driver becomes the target of accusations and hearsay by the children he drives to school for no real reason beyond his unsettling appearance and surly demeanor. Kelli gives each kid a bright spotlight as they tell their piece of the tale, while the adults who surround them are prone to lump them all in the same category.
Each piece of the story becomes a shade darker than the one preceding it, and by the time the story ended I felt a dark cloud of ambiguity hanging over the town. The revelations that come from a couple of the characters are particularly disturbing, too.
The Neighborhood is a really good introduction to a world that begs to be revisited. If Neillsville becomes Kelli's Castle Rock over time, it's definitely a town I'm up to visit again in future stories.