I decided to read THE THING IN THE WOODS by Matthew W. Quinn after reading his discussion of how the cast would have voted in 2016. It’s a contemporary-set horror which has some definite similarities to Southern Discomfort (small town with a secret, lots of newcomers moving in), though happily not too many.
Fair warning: it came out from Digital Fiction, which also publishes Where Angels Fear to Lunch. Their royalty model says we all divide up the pot equally, so if Thing in the Woods sells, that’s good for me. Nevertheless, I really did like it.
James Daly is a teenager whose father recently uprooted the family from Buckhead in Atlanta to Edington, Ga., a small town partly transformed into a bedroom community. What James doesn’t know, but will soon learn, is that there’s a local cult that feeds people who piss them off to their tentacled god. Once James learns about the cult, he’s #1 on their shit list.
WHAT I LEARNED
Setting can be an asset. I think the strength of the story is that it’s set very much in the modern south. Characters coping with recession, businesses dying, old-school Southerners who bitterly resent the newcomers in town, the changing demographics, the fact life just ain’t the way it used to be. References to Chapel Hill and Destin, both of which I’m familiar with. It’s a South I recognize. And while the bad guys get my back up (I’ve known too many people like them), Quinn does a good job making them decent. Except, you know, their bigotry and the whole human sacrifice thing.
Setting the cult and its god against that backdrop is the book’s strength, making the story much more interesting (to me, anyway), than if it had been, say, Innsmouth or something equally old-school.
Obviously there’s a parallel to Pharisee, Georgia, in Southern Discomfort: the clash between locals and outsiders, the magic secret. Pharisee’s secrets, though are a lot nicer.
Keeping the story moving is good. Well, obviously. What I mean is, Quinn does keep things moving a lot faster than I do, dealing with the town’s situation in dribbles as the plot advances. But of course the cult is a lot more incidental to Edington than the McAlisters are to Pharisee, so the effects of Aubric’s death are a lot more far-reaching. Which is likewise why I have more POV characters many of whom aren’t involved in the action: I’m shooting for a bigger overall view of Pharisee than Quinn is. Obviously his approach worked; hopefully mine will too.
Endings are tricky. The final battle with the monster is lively, but I was a little disappointed they used brute force and modern weapons rather than anything occult. It isn’t huge issue though — lots of monsters get blown up, shot, poisoned, gassed, buried, etc. — but I did expect the creature to be more supernatural than it appears to be.
Overall, it was a satisfying book. Hopefully it’s not going to launch a wave of fantasies set in Southern bedroom communities before my own comes out.
Cover image is uncredited; all rights remain with the current holder.