This week, I read something that’s been on my to be read pile for quite some time. Through the Woods is a collection of short stories written and illustrated by Emily Carroll, and it’s nothing short of a masterpiece. Containing five stories—"Our Neighbors House," "A Lady’s Hands Are Cold," "His Face All Red," "My Friend Janna," and "The Nesting Place"—the book is gorgeous and the stories are the creepy kind that really tug at the hairs on the back of your neck.
Each story builds on the creep factor until you’re sitting there with your nose just a few inches from the page because you’re worried about what might be on the other side of the book staring at you. Carroll has a way of translating those primal fears we’ve all experienced into the pages of her book.
Case in point: I often read in bed, and I have a lamp clamped (thank you IKEA) to the headboard. So imagine my surprise (and eventual discomfort) when the illustrated introduction talks about how, as a child, she used to read in bed by the light of a lamp clamped to the headboard. How she dreaded turning that light off because what if something lurking in the dark beyond reached out and grabbed her and pulled her into the darkness.
I admit it that I looked up past the halo of light and wondered if Shadow the cat would choose that exact moment to jump onto the bed and scare me silly. He didn’t. But it would’ve been perfect if he had.
At this point I knew I would love this book. She was tapping into that fear of the dark we all had as kids. For me, it was this long hallway in the brownstone we rented back in Chicago. The neon light in the kitchen seemed so far away, the hallway so very dark, and my bedroom door was in the middle. Going from there to the bathroom and back was always done in a mad dash ending in a leap beneath the covers.
For me, "A Lady’s Hands Are Cold" stands out. The art style stays pretty consistent throughout, but this story struck me as coldly beautiful. It begins with an arranged marriage, reminiscent of a hundred stories we’ve heard before where the woman has no real choice in the matter and is sent off to live with her new husband. Although it isn’t explicitly laid out, I got the sense she did not know her new husband at all before her father married her off. There is a sadness to her that comes through in the art and the choice of colors. Then very quickly things begin to change. A splash of red raises the tension. She learns her husband may not be the man he appears to be; perhaps he has a deep, dark secret hidden within the very floors and walls of his mansion. Things progress in the direction I expected, and then took a very sharp turn I did not expect, and I loved that.
Yes, I am being intentionally vague.
Each story takes a little slice of fear, something we can all relate to—a sound in the walls, a dark forest—and twists them back on themselves, elevating and amplifying those fears into compelling tales.
Highly recommend this one.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and 2013 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fanzine (Editor - SF Signal), and 2014 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fancast. He lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast was nominated for a 2012, 2013, and 2014 Hugo Award. In addition to his Kirkus posts, he writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.