Farm, The (Book)
Written by Scott Nicholson
Published by Pinnacle Books
Most books concentrate on one horrific aspect to keep their plot moving. For some, a cursed preacher would be enough. Others would include ghosts, or a bloodthirsty scarecrow to send shivers down the spines of readers. Scott Nicholson, however, not content with an ordinary horror novel, combines all three into one tightly woven plot that also includes carnivorous goats in his latest literary tour-de-force, The Farm.
After discovering that her twelve-year-old daughter, Jett, has developed quite a taste for marijuana, Katy decides to marry college professor and take her away from her city life to the Blue Ridge Mountain town of Solom. However, once she arrives, she finds that simple mountain life isn't quite what she expected. For starters, there's a black-hatted preacher who has been poking around since the day he died nearly two-hundred years ago. Then there's the problem of her daughter's insistence that the scarecrow in the barn keeps trying to attack her. There's also the strange scent of lilacs that guides her about her new duties as housewife, and the voice of her new husbands dead wife coaching her along. Added into the mix are scores of goats with a strange craving for human blood. As Katy begins to lose herself, Jett knows something is wrong, but no one will listen to a twelve-year-old stoner, so what's a girl to do? Taken all together, drug-infested city life might not seem so bad.
Nicholson, whose past novels include The Home (review) and The Manor (review), does Appalachian gothic like no other author out there. His attention to detail of the mountain life and folk set his writing apart from others, in that even those who've never been to the mountain region can feel through his writing that they've been there. From the rocky terrain to the sounds of the night sky, Nicholson brings the whole landscape to life with just broad enough a stroke to make the reader feel comfortable in this new environment. He does, however, know how and when to focus in on details with laser-like precision.
As with his past novels, Nicholson's strengths come from his vivid characters. In Katy Logan, readers see a mother who is struggling to do the right thing by her daughter, panicked by the realization that her child is not perfect, and that drugs have already affected her at her young age. Readers also are able to follow the subtle seduction of possession as she gives herself over to unseen forces, assuming unaccustomed roles and losing herself in someone else's personality. Her daughter, Jett, is a foul-mouthed know-it-all "Gothling" whom anyone who has ever dealt with children will recognize in an instant and will love immediately. Her need to stand out and gain attention from her increasingly-estranged mother drives her, even when confronting things that send her hiding under the covers in her bed. Equally richly drawn are the characters of Gordon, the new husband and expert in mountain religions, and that of the "Circuit Rider," the dead preacher who returns from the grave for unknown purposes. Even the minor characters contain their own quirks to make them real and add flavor to the small town.
Another place where Nicholson excels and others fall short is his ability to make scenes in his novels actually scary for a change. Nicholson captures the supreme creepiness of the old barn at night, where God knows what lurks above in the hay loft and dozens of moon-eyed goats follow young Jett into the barn. Readers can feel the tension as the Circuit Rider visits the characters one by one, his purpose never made clear until the last portion of the book. Even a dusty attic can become a place of nerve-jangling terror under Nicholson's keyboard.
If there are places where Nicholson stumbles, they are few. His treatment of undead characters, for example, sometimes break the rhythm of the story, as characters tend to regard the Circuit Rider with as little surprise as they'd show their neighbor. However, even this speaks volumes about the town, in which the old religions are still alive and such things are to be expected. There are also places where the menace of the Circuit Rider is broken by his own dialogue, with the cursed preacher speaking as though he were having a neighborly conversation.
The good far outweighs the shortcomings, however, as Nicholson brings the story together with the ease and skill of one of his own story-telling characters. The Farm ultimately holds several messages for readers, the first of which is the value of family. In some cases, that value may be misplaced, but it exists nonetheless. It also shows the spirit of community, and of how deep beliefs can run. And that goats are just plain evil.
To find out more about Scott Nicholson and his novels, visit his website.
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