“Something is not quite right.”
This is a phrase I used for nearly 25 years teaching creative writing to students at a state college in southern Ohio.
I said it after I’d had them leave the classroom for a fake writing exercise, while a classmate of theirs and I moved their backpacks and bookbags around.
There Was Unease
They’d come back into the room after their given time away. I’d say nothing.
Sometimes, all was quiet, and there were nervous glances as folks moved around the room and collected their bags; occasionally, there was a bit of borderline hysteria, a frantic sense of loss.
Always, there was unease, and always, there were some smug looks on sleuth students’ faces.
Something is not quite right.
The novel Violet rolls with this. And rolls. It steals your backpacks and bookbags and makes you feel helpless.
I read it because the title is the name of my youngest daughter. I still love her. I give her a nervous side-eye sometimes, though.
Excellent Characters and Setting
Scott Thomas knows how to put you in the middle of a setting, with characters who interest you. That’s a basic skill needed for all writers. As he introduces you to person and place, though, he also knows how to give you the feeling that “something is not quite right.” You could call it tension, but it’s more than that. It’s actually more subtle.
He blends atmosphere and character in a way that, for me, stands out in modern horror/weird/supernatural fiction.
Kris Barlow and her eight-year-old daughter Sadie go back to a place that is haunted in Kris’s heart, a lakehouse retreat. Childhood memories that involve her mother’s death. And Kris and Sadie are dealing with the loss of their husband/father in a car accident.
The journey is unnerving. This is truly the kind of book where a reviewer should not say too much because the slow burn, the impending outcome of something not being right has to be experienced fully.
With a cast of supporting characters from the KC Chiefs-cap hardware store guy, to Hitch the eccentric bookstore owner who warns Kris and Sadie of Amy Witherspoon, to Jesse and Camilla and their horse, Cap, and through a sprawling lake community, the author makes you comfortable, uncomfortable, comfortable, and uncomfortable.
And in the lake house where Kris and Sadie stay, there are chambers of the dark hearts of humans, and secret places where the dead live.
Something is not quite right.
Scott Thomas’s prose is right, though. Early on, he offers one of the greatest paragraphs I’ve ever read, which haunted me through the entire novel:
“God, she’s so perfect, Kris thought. But she knew this was not true. Sadie had been born perfect, just as every child was until they opened their eyes and realized they were not alone. The flaws of their new world destroyed them—not instantly but little by little, over years, chipping at their souls until they no longer remembered what it was like to float in wonderful, absolute silence.”
Within this book, something is not quite right; with the craft of this book, everything is right.