The Twisted Ones
Kingfisher, T. (author).
Oct. 2019. 385p. Simon &Schuster/Saga, paper, $16.99 (9781534429567); Simon & Schuster/Saga, $24.99 (9781534429574).
First published September 15, 2019 (Booklist).
Further Appeal: "Twisted" is the perfect word for this book. It is pervasively creepy and will burrow under your skin as it twists Mouse and the reader into an uncomfortable, claustrophobic, and completely disoriented state of mind.
Mouse goes to rural North Carolina to clean out her grandmother’s house after the old, nasty woman died. What she finds at first is an unsettling, hoarder mess, but as she digs through the mounds of garbage, she stumbles upon her step-grandfather's journal, and with that discovery she enters a whole new level of horror, one that he has described in terrifying detail, one that Mouse and her dog also begin to experience, and one that they might not survive. Told with a “found book” frame and an intense first person narration, this folk horror novel begins with the unease of Mouse telling us how her life was forever tainted by the experience she is about to recount. It is a tale as tightly twisted and menacing as that carvings she finds in the woods. Readers will stand back in awe as it all unravels, slowly at first, and then with great and terrifying speed. While The Twisted Ones is a modern retelling of the seminal Weird Fiction tale, “The White People,” by Arthur Machen, a story cited as one of H.P. Lovecraft’s biggest influences, it can also be enjoyed on its own without that context. Kingfisher has done a great job bringing this story to a new generation so that they can experience and interpret the wonder and dread that has made this brand of horror so satisfying across a century, much like the popular and award-winning work of Caitlin Keirnan, Matt Ruff, and Paul La Farge.
This book is about Mouse, getting into her head space, and being trapped there. It is intense, but not bloody. The intensity is psychological, but it does lead to physical danger too. This is a book, while short, that you may need to put down for a bit, take a breather, and then return to. However, for fans of this type of horror story, they want that and will love it.
I cannot stress enough how closely this book is based on the Machen original. This will make some of the writing and plot devices seem odd to some readers at first, but Kingfisher is also able to make this story intriguing and compelling on her own. Retelling and reclaiming of Lovecraftian horror by people who he would have hated in real life [women, poc, LGBTQ] is also a huge trend.
This novel also embraces the folk horror trope which is very hot right now too, especially for those who have seen the popular movie Midsommar.
Three Words That Describe This Book: claustrophobic, psychologically intense, found book frame
Readalikes: Obviously you cannot read this book on Friday the 13th today, since it is not out yet. But, the links in the review above go to some very solid readalikes that you can get your hands on right now. Those three are going to be very true to the style and storytelling of the older texts they are based upon, just like The Twisted Ones.
However, there are other works that are in not based off of these older texts that this novel reminded me of, specifically The Grip of It by Jac Jemc and The Motion of Puppets by Keith Donohue. Both are intensely creepy and claustrophobic, create a sense of disorientation in the characters and the reader, and have a touch of "the weird." Click on the linked titles to see even more readalikes. These are also both mainstream titles I know most libraries have already.
If you want to try a few more classic authors who inspired Lovecraft, I would also suggest Algernon Blackwood and Clark Ashton Smith to get started. Also if you want an introduction to Lovecraft, I highly suggest the Annotated Lovecraft series by Leslie Klinger, especially the brand new volume in the series with an introduction by Victor LaValle whose excellent The Ballad of Black Tom is an amazing Lovecraft retelling on its own [again by a black man, someone Lovercraft would have hated himself]. These books collect the stories of Lovecraft and include Klinger's award winning annotations that bring the text to life for the modern reader, including discussions of his influences, such as Machen.
Finally, if you are interested in finding out more about cosmic horror, old and new, I highly suggest you subscribe to the podcast, Cosmic Shenanigans, hosted by horror author and writing professor, Mary SanGiovanni. This weekly podcast focuses on a specific story, novel, movie, graphic novel, even video game in each episode. She either reads the work [if short enough] or describes it in detail and then discusses how and why it is in the "cosmic" horror subgenre. This podcast is especially good for those of you who aren't horror fans but want to understand the enduring appeal of Lovecraft and his work. You can browse the archives to find stories, authors, or artists that you would like to know more about.
I think this gives you plenty to fill your Friday the 13th with spooky reads.