Reviews

A Chilling Southern Gothic Novel Set In Contemporary North Carolina

A review of T. Kingfisher's new novel, "The Twisted Ones."

The Twisted Ones is a Southern gothic tale told in the folksy, rambling charm of its narrator, Melissa. She is humble to the point of apologizing for not starting out the story perfectly enough, and appropriately goes by the nickname “Mouse.” When her ailing father asks her to clean out the home of her recently deceased grandmother so that it can be sold, Mouse agrees in order to spare him the stress.

Mouse and her coonhound Bongo drive to her grandmother’s house in an overgrown patch of rural North Carolina. Having had no love for her unkind grandmother, she has no emotional connection to the house. To make matters worse, Mouse discovers that her grandmother had been a hoarder.

While doing the tedious work of clearing out room after room of hoarded junk, Mouse finds her step-grandfather Fredrick’s journal. Fredrick had been an amiable Welshman with a strange tolerance for his wife’s verbal hostility, and a stranger still knowledge of mythical woodland creatures. To protect himself from them, he repeats a phrase from something called the Green Book, which he does his best to reconstruct from memory. In a genre where film narratives are full of found footage, The Twisted Ones contains a generous helping of found manuscript. The Green Book is a book within a journal within the novel. The sheer volume of found manuscript begs patience of its reader by the middle of the novel, but once things start going bump in the night at the house, the thrills leave you wanting more.

T. Kingfisher is the not-at-all-secret pseudonym of Nebula and Hugo-winning author, graphic novelist, and illustrator, Ursula Vernon. Vernon, who has written for many age groups, now writes her adult horror as Kingfisher. The necessity for a pseudonym presented itself one day when at a library event, a young boy won a copy of Vernon’s first book, which, having been written for adults, contained adult content, including torture, human sex, and elf sex! Fortunately, Vernon was able to convince the boy to trade it for a copy of one of her children’s books, and no childhood innocence was compromised. Thus, “T. Kingfisher” was born.

Vernon, who lives in Chatham County, North Carolina, uses her knowledge of the land to give The Twisted Ones a strong sense of place. Its wooded hills are very much a character. The country roads are enveloped by trees so dense and tall, it’s easy to lose track of how deeply within them you’ve driven. As Mouse explains: “At any given moment, you could be surrounded by a thousand acres of uninhabited woods, or you could be thirty feet from a business park full of IT professionals. There’s no way to tell… There’s some weird little dips in the landscape — not full hills exactly and nothing you’d call a holler, but things fold over on themselves and wrinkle up and you get weird little bluffs cut by things that are a creek in Pittsburgh and a crick down here. (I usually just call it a stream to save argument.)”

Between this rural landscape and the lack of cell service at her grandmother’s old house, Vernon is able to reserve an amount of mystery and isolation difficult to pull off in stories set in the era of constant connection via technology.

Mouse is so modest, you can’t help loving her from the get-go, but what seals the deal is her love for Bongo. When Bongo runs away during a violent attack by a creature from the woods, Mouse swallows her fear and steps into the trees to save him with the help of a sassy hippie from the only human inhabitation nearby.

If you’re looking for a horror novel that uses a rich, regional narrative voice, and a unique creature mythology to put a fresh spin on traditional gothic elements, this novel is for you.

And Vernon’s illustrations, hand-drawn journal pages, and botanical observations can be seen on her quirky website, redwombatstudio.com.

FICTION
The Twisted Ones
By T. Kingfisher
Saga Press
Published October 1, 2019

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