Modern Gothics, ghost stories, dark faeries, witches, curses, claustrophobic paranoia, slow slides into madness—I love them all. I enjoy spooky books throughout the year, but the October Season, with its shorter days and chilly nights, is my favorite time to read them. I always start out all cozy next to the crackling woodstove, but then there’s always an unexplained creak (old house) or an unexpected puff of cold air (ditto) to snap me out of my sleepy comfort and into a hyper-aware, scared-out-of-my-pants freakout.
Read the last Bookshelves of Doom at Kirkus on 'Tighter.'
My only October Country rule is that, at some point, I have to read a story set in Maine*. Because it’s just that much more creepy to read a horror story set in your own backyard. So, usually, I reread a classic Stephen King novel.
Not this year. This year I went with something a bit more recent: After Obsession (Bloomsbury, 2011), by Carrie Jones and Steven E. Wedel. It features your basic local-girl-and-outsider-boy-fall-in-love-and-fight-a-demon storyline, with Jones writing from the perspective of Aimee (the local girl) and Wedel writing from the perspective of Alan (the outsider boy).
Neither protagonist is hugely exciting. Of the two, Wedel’s Midwestern transplant is the more interesting. Due to a lack of information about his biological father, all of his knowledge about his Navajo roots has been gleaned from the Internet and books, and his determination to learn more—despite borderline derision from his mother—is likable. Jones’ Aimee is also perfectly likable. And she’s strong-willed, has visions, healing powers, red hair, a tragically dead mother, an obnoxious younger brother and a quirky grandfather. But, in truth, all of that just adds up to a Generic Paranormal Heroine.
What is especially disappointing—and much more difficult to get past—is that Alan and Aimee’s romance feels unnecessary—like it’s there because it’s expected to be there, not that it’s there because there’s a believable, palpable attraction between the characters.
The creepy bits, on the other hand, are outstanding, and there are some legitimately skin-crawly moments. The small-town setting is a big part of that. Seeing people morph into strangers—when Aimee’s nice-guy boyfriend, for example, turns nasty—is especially unnerving when you’ve known them your whole life. But it isn’t just the setting. Jones and Wedel use classic possession tropes like bad smells, loud noises and oozing pustules—any one of them easily explained away, but if you have them all, you know you’re in Linda Blair Territory—to slowly amp up the atmosphere and the tension.
And, of course, I approved of this nod to the Big Daddy of Maine Horror:
McKinney nods real slow, like I’ve revealed I know some deep dark secret about his little town. Maybe I have. This is Maine. Maybe the whole damn state is like some creepy old Stephen King story.
Even without a demonic possession to contend with, sometimes it really does feel like that up here.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is probably maniacally organizing all of her music into far-too-specific Spotify playlists.