Odd things befall a woman among witchlike beings in a forest in Colonial America.
The woman narrating goes walking in the woods one day to pick berries for her husband and boy and wanders “farther away from our home than ever I had before.” (Clues to the undefined time and place include soldiers in red, or Redcoats, and a coastal town where a woman sits in stocks typical of Puritan New England.) After a time, the narrator is in distress, lost in the forest and injured. She will encounter three women who seem to help as they hinder her efforts to return home while they reveal special powers and pastimes. She will dive for a treasure in a filthy well and see the world change when viewed through a hole in a piece of bark. Memories will arise that might explain her own specialness. Things evolve from the strange but plausible to the strange and magical—including a flying boat “made of human skin and of human bones”—somewhat in the manner of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass. There’s an explicit reference to “Hansel and Gretel,” one of the grimmer among the Grimm brothers’ tales and an apt allusion for Hunt (The Evening Road, 2017, etc.). Borne along by his lyrical writing, the narrative moves from foreboding to fear to the psyche’s awful freight and finally to horror. It’s a journey in mood and message from Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne to the Poe of “The Cask of Amontillado,” and the reader yields to the final frisson in the realization of how the why precedes and suits the terrible what. An entire episode—albeit quite creepy—doesn’t really fit thematically, and the ending is unfortunately both puzzling and annoying.
A bit flawed but an unusual and entertaining tale from an uncommonly resourceful writer.