"Violet" Book Review
Written by Shane D. Keene
Published by Inkshares
Written by Scott Thomas
2019, 436 pages, Fiction
Released on September 24th, 2019
On the subjects of ghosts and doppelgangers, much has been written, much has been done to death, pardon the pun, and it would seem it’s a vein that’s been mined to utter oblivion. But in the hands of an author like Scott Thomas, nothing normal seems normal and nothing familiar feels comfortable. In his novel Kill Creek, he took what started out feeling like an homage to Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and turned the trope on its head, taking readers by surprise and making his story into something entirely of his own design. And again, in Violet, you go in feeling like you know what you’re getting and in the end find yourself completely surprised by the outcome. I mean, how many horror stories have you read that begin with a protagonist returning to childhood home or vacation spot to find comfort, surcease, or redemption? I’ll bet you couldn’t begin to even name them all. And that’s what you get with Thomas’ new novel from Inkshares.
Or is it?
Kris Barlow returns to Pacington, Kansas, and the house on Lost Lake with her daughter Sadie, determined to put the death of her husband behind her and to help her daughter – and herself – get through the grief and regain some sense of normalcy in their lives. It’s the place where she spent childhood summers with her family, and it’s the place where she said goodbye to her mother. It’s also where an old childhood friend awaits her. At first, things seem to be going smoothly as she and Sadie settle into a routine and it appears healing might be possible. But it doesn’t take long for the evil that has settled on the town and the house to reveal its presence to her, and what at first seems like a coming of age reflection soon becomes more of an exercise in regression.
Without warning, Kris was assaulted by an image behind her eyes. She was a little girl. A couple of years older than Sadie. She was in the forest, beside the great oak tree, The Wishing Tree, its trunk gaping like a hungry mouth. There was another girl standing in the shadows within the tree, dark eyes shining like light attempting to escape the pull of a black hole, ruby lips lifted into a playful grin.
For a reviewer, Scott Thomas stories always read like a series of pull-quotes. It is true of Kill Creek and it’s just as true of Violet. His eloquence surpasses that of some of the best of the business and I could spend this entire review talking about nothing but that. His prose is pure sonic poetry, lyrical and engulfing and I could quote passage after passage and never tire of it. But I – mostly – won’t do that. Just let me say this much about it: Right from the very first paragraph you know you’re in for a narrative steeped in magical language, the choice of words and phrasing is so picture perfect and engaging it can sometimes take your breath away:
The road sliced a gray line through the black night. Beyond the beams of her headlights, the land was at the mercy of the moonlight. She imagined the road ending without warning, driving over the edge, plummeting into an infinite nothingness, until her screams became a song for the darkness.
Beyond his sheer mastery of English, there’s so much more to say about this book, more than could possibly fit into a single review, but there are a few exceptionally salient things you should know. First off, and the thing I always key into, is Scott’s incredible prowess with storytelling. As readers, we want to become so immersed in a story we forget we’re actually reading, absorbing it on a more experiential, visceral level that makes it not only easy to suspend our disbelief but impossible not to. There are few authors working today who have the ability to so fully and effectively engage their readers like this, but of those, Thomas is one of the best. The darkness and tension keep us holding our breath, clinging to the edge of our seats like voluntary prisoners as we let Mr. Thomas completely fucking own us with his words.
There are many reasons to invest yourself in the telling of this tale, not least of which are the characters, particularly those of Kris and Sadie. But also of the quirky townspeople and the dark secrets surrounding Pacington, fed piecemeal to them in snippets of cracking dialogue and flashes of unexpected and exhilarating action along with heavy brooding introspection and surreal dream/memory sequences that begin to reveal Kris’ own dark past and it’s connection to the house on Lost Lake. And speaking of, the intense sensation of dread that permeates the story and really makes it sing, resonating in your mind and heart, could not be possible without Scott’s incredible alacrity when it comes to building a set, to place you in the moment and make you feel and experience the surroundings as if you were there:
She heard wooden steps groaning under her feet as she hurried up onto the deck. She felt the smooth brass handle of the French door, still hot even in the fading sunlight. She caught of glimpse of her blurry reflection in the glass, like an accidental photograph of a passing stranger. But Kris was not aware of actually being there. She was not commanding her brain to do these things. Her body had taken over, while Kris scrambled further and further back into the darkness of her mind, toward the door where she kept the unpleasant things. She needed to know that it was shut. She wanted to press her back up against it and make sure that it could not open.
When it comes to developing setting, Scott Thomas has few peers of any note, and the same can be said of everything else about his writing. He’s an author of incredible ability and, mark my words, he’s guaranteed to achieve Big Five status sooner rather than later if he keeps writing at the level he is now. Not since Peter Straub’s Ghost Story has a book and its characters so fully mesmerized me that I literally blew through hours of time without noticing the passage of a minute. Scott’s prose is matchless and gorgeous, his control of the English language so fully realized as to make it seem like a thing he invented. The pacing is set on maximum slow-burn, but the tale is so engrossing you only notice the tempo on an academic level if even that. Violet is one of the most heavily character-driven stories I’ve ever read, and your need to know what happens to them will keep you plowing through the pages like your life depended on it. If you loved Kill Creek, get ready folks. This book is going to kick your ass.
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