Reviews

Different Shades of Despair

Violet by Scott Thomas

Book Review by Rich Duncan

Scott Thomas took the Horror world by storm when he released his Stoker-nominated debut Kill Creek in 2017 through Inkshares. The story followed a group of horror authors who are invited to spend Halloween night in the infamous Finch House and their battle for survival. It’s a book that still resonates throughout the horror community and now Thomas is back with his highly anticipated follow-up. Violet tells the tale of Kris and her eight-year-old daughter Sadie as they deal with the trauma of the unexpected death of Jonah, Kris’ husband and Sadie’s father. Kris has known pain and grief all of her life, starting with the heartbreaking loss of her mother to cancer when she was ten. Now as she battles her own anger and grief over the loss of Jonah, she realizes it is having a devastating impact on Sadie. She was once a vibrant child, full of energy and happiness but lately has become withdrawn and has stopped speaking to Kris. When she does communicate with Kris, it’s through a nod of the head or gestures. Desperate to try and help her daughter cope and begin to heal, Kris decides to return to her family’s lake house on Lost Lake. Even though it was where she lost her mother decades ago, Kris remembers it as a place where they made memories as a family and where the beautiful scenery shaped her summers. When they first arrive and Pacington, Kris finds that she’s having a hard time reaching Sadie and she begins questioning her decision of bringing her to the relatively isolated lake house. However, slowly but surely, Kris begins to see a change in Sadie. It’s subtle, but it seems like her Sadie is coming back to her. Content with her progress, Kris doesn’t notice that something sinister is creeping into her childhood home. Not to mention, the residents of Pacington seem to be harboring a dark secret of their own. Will Kris and Sadie find the solace they so desperately need or will the darkness that has settled in the community of Lost Lake consume them?

“Sometimes it is easier to not know. Life is happier lived in ignorance. But that does not mean the unspeakable things are not there. They are simply hidden, like water beneath the ground, searching for a way to flow into the light.”

There are a lot of things I look for in a good horror novel – realistic characters, an imaginative plot, and a vivid setting- and Violet checks all of those boxes. I love small-town horror, so one of the first things I latched onto was Thomas’ approach to bringing Pacington to life. The town of Pacington and Thomas’ vivid depiction of it is an integral part of the overall narrative. The book even starts with a prologue that details the history of the town and the strange way Lost Lake came into existence, which immediately establishes an eerie atmosphere that follows the reader throughout the story. The town itself is easy to envision as a picturesque version of small-town America with a close-knit community where everyone knows each other. Thomas further plays up the town’s charm by populating it with town landmarks with quaint names like The Dairy Godmother, The Daily Grind, and You Old Sew and Sew. Early on in the novel, the reader first views Pacington with the same reverence as Kris. It seems like the sort of place you’d love to live and set down roots. But what’s fascinating about Thomas’ portrayal of the town is that as Kris’ life slowly unravels, he gives the reader glimpses that show there are cracks slowly splintering across the town’s facade of perfection.

One of the most divisive elements of Violet, in my opinion, will be the depiction of Kris’ lake house. There is a large portion of the story that focuses on Kris and Sadie attempting to repair the house and restore it to the version of the house Kris remembers from her childhood. You’re either going to love this section or hate it. Personally, I thought it was an essential element to the story for a variety of reasons. I have my own feelings as to why the author focused so heavily on these repair scenes, but I don’t want to influence other reader’s journey with this book. One thing I do feel comfortable mentioning is that I think those scenes served as a useful vehicle for Thomas to incorporate memories of Kris’ past and how they are impacting her now at this time in her life without resorting to simple flashbacks. That is also one of the elements of Violet that help it stand apart from similar stories. Thomas’ ability to subtly blend the past and present throughout the novel, whether it be tied directly to Kris’ life or the lives of those who call Pacington home. But I absolutely fell in love with the way Thomas treats Kris’ house like a living, breathing character in the same tradition of classics like Matheson’s Hell House and Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, particularly in the third act of the novel.

Violet is definitely a “slow burn” novel, ever so slightly increasing the tension as the veneer of Pacington is slowly peeled away and Thomas exposes the darkness that is slowly consuming the town from the inside out. Violet is more about the journey of the characters and the steadily mounting dread that builds throughout the novels and forces the reader to examine why they’re feeling that way and places them squarely in Kris’ shoes. That isn’t to say that there aren’t outright horrifying moments in this book, because there definitely are, it’s just that they are handled a bit differently. Thomas spends a bulk of the novel cultivating that darkness, dread, and anxiety to the point where even the slightest event out of the ordinary can make your skin crawl. This isn’t a traditional haunted house or ghost story, but instead, something that takes the fundamental DNA of those stories and transforms it into something else entirely. Listen, I love action-packed ghost stories where all hell breaks loose as much as anyone, but there is something a little more unsettling about those quiet moments where you realize something isn’t quite right versus an outright assault on the senses. Not all hauntings or experiences with the unknown that we are faced with are full of bizarre, terrifying moments. Sometimes, its the minor alteration of what we hold dear and just the knowledge that something has invaded the place we hold most dear that is the most terrifying of all.

I also loved the intimate, contained scope of Violet. Sure, Thomas creates an excellent supporting cast – whether it be the friendly, foul-mouthed Camilla who runs the Auto Barn or the slightly off-beat Hitch – but the story revolves around Kris and Sadie. Thomas does a nice job of showing the parallels between their lives and how grief found both of them in their childhood. That sort of intentionally small scope really worked for me because it allowed for a much more in-depth exploration of the main characters and allowed me to have a deeper connection with them, particularly Kris. Throughout the novel, she grapples with her own grief and anxiety, and Thomas utilizes different internal “voices” to show how she doubts herself and to also explore different facets of her personality. I thought this was a nice touch because it’s something everyone can relate to. Everyone has those moments of self-doubt and anxiety and this was a simple yet effective way to illustrate those internal struggles. Violet is an exploration of grief and loss and what can happen when we hold onto it for too long, portrayed through the lives of not just Kris and Sadie, but the community of Pacington as a whole.

Violet mixes psychological horror with large doses of dread, ambiguity and a unique antagonist to create a story that slowly worms its way into your subconscious and sticks with you long after you finish reading. The more I think about Violet, the more things I uncover about the construction of the narrative that makes me love the story even more. It’s full of small “aha” moments that serve as the foundation for the novel’s chilling ending. Violet was my first experience with Thomas’ work, but I’m now eagerly anticipating going back and discovering Kill Creek. While not a traditional ghost story, Thomas does use elements of them in Violet and it carries the same spirit as the early classics of the form. I have a feeling my love of this story will grow the more I think about it and in my opinion, it’s a great way to kick off your Fall reading list.

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