Those Across the River
Accessed as an audiobook
When I started this book, I was working under the assumption that this would end up being a review for August-August is Ghost Month.
I am always excited when I completely misread a plot and end up somewhere else entirely. The way that Buehlman invokes Black Shuck should have said something to me, but it didn’t, and I love him for it. This is not a ghost story in the traditional sense.
Except that it almost is. I think that this is one of those gothic horror pieces where the meat of the plot, the whole of the details that make up the majority of the action but not necessarily the main push of the novel, are the best aspect of the book. This is definitely firmly in the realm of war horror-but from the angle of what war does to a man more than the war itself. Frank’s main battle is with himself and there are hints that it could easily become as dangerous and potentially fatal as whatever is going on outside of him. World War I never really ends for him, and everything that he does (and I do mean, everything) is tinted by his war experiences. He is as haunted by his own past as whatever it is he’s found in his new home.
There is a lot of folklore running through this piece-and it’s arguable that the symbolism here may be deliberate (maybe it’s not the pigs the town should have given up-maybe it’s Frank that should have given up the sacrifice of the people he left during the war). It doesn’t cross the line into full folkloric horror and it doesn’t stray too far into the realm of monster fiction. I have read reviews that argue the piece is Lovecraftian and I honestly have to say that I don’t see it-not that it’s a weakness to the book by any means.
It’s hard to give away too much of this plot, but at the same time maybe not-the book is heavily driven by the interpersonal politics in a small Southern town. Frank Nichols moves his partner Dora to the family homestead in Georgia with the intention of writing the history of his family-including the infamy of their slave ownership. There are rumors of something in the woods and Frank’s experiences makes him wonder if the rumors aren’t accurate. However, he couldn’t have possibly foreseen what is actually out there.
In terms of classic monster fiction, this is much more enjoyable if you fall on the Dog Soldiers end of the spectrum as opposed to the Universal Wolf Man. But I do love me some Dog Soldiers…