by Robert Dunbar
Uninvited Books (2012)
I grew up in the woods, so the primordial fear of the wilderness is diminished a great deal with me. I've been with citified friends on camping trips though, and I have marveled at the abject terror that can come from something as simple as an animal ambling by the tent at night or the wind causing one tree limb to grind against another. With Robert Dunbar's novella, Wood, there is a touch of that primitive fear towards the woods. Only in this case, there's good reason.
The story revolves around two disparate characters that are thrown into an encounter that has each of them do something they haven't done in a long time: trust someone. Rosaria is a teenage girl living in a juvenile center direly concerned about the welfare of her grandmother who has no one to take care of her now. Dick is a suicidal loner on the outskirts of town with just about no faith left in humanity, whose eccentric neighbor's ramblings about monsters in the woods may have a ring of truth. One fateful night, their paths cross when Rosaria winds up on Dick's front step as she searches for her grandmother. Dick might otherwise ignore the girl, but he gets the uncanny sense there is something else out there in the darkness that poses a threat to her, so--and here comes the fairytale allusions--he follows her to grandmother's house.
I read this story on the weekend before Halloween, which wound up being the perfect time of year to appreciate the dead leaves and dirty ground feel of the monster. The atmosphere is built in a way that I've come to expect from Robert's writing. The characters were equally vivid, although the snappy dialogue felt a little out of place, but not in a distracting way. Heck, a snarky teen girl who isn't afraid to face off against a monster is certainly the kind of character a Joss Whedon fan can appreciate. As for the monster ... well, you will just have to read the story to appreciate it, as there is a scene towards the end that is just devilishly fun.
There's a fair amount of humor in the story, but not to the point where I'd call it a comedy. It's there, I think, to help lighten the mood of what at times feels like a grim tale with almost terminally flawed characters. It's a quick, engaging adventure on the shadowy streets of an unnamed town that I enjoyed a great deal. And like any good monster story, I want a sequel.