Book Review: Wild Fell
Wild Fell has:
* a likeable narrator and strong characterization
* scares that depend more on psychology than gore
* a twisty, change everything ending
Wild Fell by Michael Rowe (2013)
Jameson Browning, a man well acquainted with suffering, has purchased Wild Fell with the intention of beginning a new life, of letting in the light. But what waits for him at the house is devoted to its darkness and guards it jealously. It has been waiting for Jameson his whole life – or even longer. And now, at long last, it has found him.
My result: Enjoyable
Jamie is one of the most sympathetic narrators I’ve read in a long time. It’s hard not to feel for him through a lonely childhood. His mother’s casual indifference leaves Jamie and his father as allies, and the quiet affection between father and son only becomes stronger after divorce. I enjoyed the contrast between life in an unbroken but unhappy home and life in a peaceful single parent home. It’s a dynamic I’ve seen in real life, but not often on the page.
I also appreciated Jamie’s lifelong friendship with Hank (not Lucinda), a tomboy who chooses to go by a boy’s name. Their interactions feel completely genuine, as do the reactions of those around them. They are absolutely loyal to each other, through whatever life hands them. It’s a thoughtful exploration of gender identity, through both childhood and adulthood, and beautifully done.
And then there’s Jamie’s other friend, Amanda. She lives in his mirror, and sometimes talks through his reflection. The ghost story is a long, slow burn, woven through the story of Jamie’s childhood and adult life. After a cliched horror movie prologue, there’s little action. Most horror elements occur off screen, and Wild Fell relies heavily on spooky atmosphere and foreshadowing for its impact. Creepy background details and a few strong scenes are laced throughout, but for me the sense of rising tension was missing.
The climax contains huge revelations meant to redefine the shape of the entire story. It could make for a mind-blowing story, but for me the ending didn’t live up to the reveal. It felt over-explained. Some things were over-explained, giving me little to dwell on after the story ended. Some were left open to interpretation, but would’ve invalidated much of what I enjoyed about Wild Fell. The ending is huge though, and for some readers will make the story.
I enjoyed reading Jamie’s story enough to give Wild Fell three stars. But with an awful prologue and a ghost story that doesn’t do more than unsettle, I can’t rate it higher. In this case, it’s the genre elements that failed me.
Bonus Review: Dream Boy
Instead of the usual three recommendations, you get a mini-review for one of my favorite books of all time. Dream Boy has a lot of the same draws as Wild Fell, but in my opinion is a much better read. If you enjoy open endings, you will love Dream Boy.
Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley (1997)
In a novel as stunning and heartbreaking as his acclaimed debut work, Grimsley recounts the story of a painful first love–between two adolescent boys who bravely sustain each other in a world of domestic disintegration.
My result: Highly Recommended
Dream Boy is an older book, but one of my all time favorite novels. It’s a beautiful love story between two teenage boys and an exploration of domestic violence. It’s also an intricate jigsaw puzzle of a book, with at least three possible interpretations of the story. Dream Boy has a wide open, ambiguous ending, and that’s exactly why I adore it. I’ve reread it five times, and convinced several friends to read as well. Still none of us agree on exactly what happens. As for the other reason I’m recommending it here in this context, you’ll just have to read Dream Boy to find out.
What about you? Do you prefer creepy atmosphere or outright horror?