Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Written by Christopher Golden
Published by Bantam Books
Christopher Golden is one of those writers that always seems like he’s one book away from making it big. Not that he’s a small time author by any means, indeed he’s worked on The Stephen King Universe and both Buffy video games on top of the dozens of novels he’s produced, but for some reason he’s just not at the forefront of enough horror fans’ minds.
Wildwood Road, his latest, may help to change all that. Not only is it a damn fine story within, but also that quote from horrormeister Stephen King on the cover is sure to get some curious readers to give it a chance. I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised.
On the way home from a Halloween party, Michael Dansky, his wife passed out in the back seat, just barely manages to avoid hitting a little girl in the road. Feeling responsible for her well being on this chilly October evening in Massachusetts, Michael gives the girl a ride to where she, as she puts it, belongs. As she leaves his car she tells him simply “Come find me”.
Suddenly Michael can’t concentrate on anything, as his mind is plagued by thoughts of this sweet, lost young girl. When he begins to see her standing, weeping silently, in the corner of his bedroom, however, he begins to question his own sanity. Soon other things start appearing out of the corner of his eye; hideous things, women at one time, now deformed and looking as if they’re in the midst of a permanent scream. The closer Michael comes to the little girl and the house she “belongs” in, for he is obsessed with finding it again, the close these other creatures come to him and his life. When he wakes up one morning to find a vindictive bitch in the place of his normally loving, gentle wife, things unravel quickly and he wonders if it might not be too late.
At first I assumed this was a standard ghost story, little girl on an abandoned road, picked up by driver, starts appearing for days afterward, and I wondering if maybe Golden still, as they say, “had it”. In fact, the further I moved into the book the more I realized that not only does he still have it, but he is in top form with Wildwood Road.
The characters, as is always the case with Golden’s work, are fully realized and sympathetic when they need to be and thoroughly despised, if in a pitiful way, when they don’t (an example when they don’t need to be; what Michael’s wife becomes…). He’s able to set up their relatively normal lives just well enough for you to either identify or envy them, then brings it all crashing down around them in a slow unfolding of events that, quite literally at times, serves to unravel the very basics of what was believed to be real.
Golden really hasn’t written a bad book to date, and if Wildwood Road is any indication, he’s only getting better with age. As much as I would like to give it as high a score as possible, he does suffer from a case of Kingitis, as I call it, in the book’s final pages. The showdown between Michael and the things that attempt to ruin his life can be a bit…well, cheesy at times. The imagery just didn’t work for me, and sometimes it seemed as if by coming up with the great idea at the book’s core, Golden had written himself into a corner when it came to ending the story. The conclusion is, ultimately, satisfactory, but the details leading up to them were lacking.
Despite that minor complaint, Wildwood Road is a great story of the supernatural that is unlike anything I’ve seen before, though the creatures remind me of something that’d be seen on an especially good episode of “Buffy” back in the day. Recommended.
3 1/2 out of 5
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