Thursday, December 7, 2023

They prefer to keep you in the dark around here…



Nobody tells you a thing, that's it. Mom won't say what's going on, no matter how hard you beg. Dad's not breathing a word and there are too many closed doors and locked cabinets to find out yourself. Nobody tells you a thing but maybe, as in the new book "Wild Spaces" by S.L. Coney, it's for your own good.

Before the dog arrived at the mint-green cottage on the edge of the South Carolina wetlands, it looked like a long summer with not much to do. When the coppery-red animal didn't leave, though, the summer was better because the boy was allowed to keep the dog he named Teach, after his favorite pirate.

For the next month, everything felt brighter. Days were spent exploring the outdoors near the cottage, or helping the boy's mother in the kitchen, or learning interesting things from his very smart father. At night, the boy's mother tucked him into bed with Teach by his side, and she told them stories of swashbucklers and sailing ships.

The boy knew he was safe.

And then a rickety station wagon came down the gravel driveway.

The boy could tell that his grandfather's visit wasn't planned. Teach could, too; he growled at the old man and tried to bite him. Grandfather seemed to be an okay guy, but he made the boy's parents uncomfortable, which was more reason for the boy to head outside, down to the beach and the mud and to stand at the mouth of the cave he wasn't allowed to enter.

His grandfather liked to go to the beach, too – why, the boy couldn't quite tell. The old man ruined a lot of afternoons by the water with the boy's father. The boy and his dad couldn't even go in their boat without problems – but really, it was okay. Being on the skiff wasn't probably going to happen much anyhow. There was a big storm on the way; the boy could feel it.

And then the monster arrived.

Please don't be too concerned by the fact that, at 121 pages, "Wild Spaces" is a tiny little book. Just consider it a literary snack. A sinister, foreboding, distressing snack.

Indeed, you'll sense from the very first page that something dreadful is going to happen to the boy who goes unnamed, and to everyone he loves, but to what extent, and how bad? Those are the questions, and getting to the answers in this story is like creeping bare-kneed through slimy ooze or stepping on something dead in the dark. Open the covers of this book, start the first page, and author S.L. Coney makes it clear without saying so, that the only good thing that's going to come from this book is the scare you're going to feel.

This book is perfect for Bradbury or Lovecraft fans and would make a good gateway to those authors for a savvy 12-to-17-year-old reader. "Wild Spaces" is perfect for those darkest nights.

"Wild Spaces" by S.L. Coney

c.2023, Tordotcom Books, $16.99, 121 pages