Editor’s Note: Full disclosure: Matthew W Quinn asked that I review his latest book, The Thing in the Woods, as a favor. I still intend to give the book a fair review.
All artists take inspiration from what they loved as kids. The Thing in the Woods carries on this tradition. Author Matt Quinn pulls from his surroundings, from his love of supernatural horror to his youth in suburban Georgia.
But The Thing in the Woods isn’t just a nostalgia romp latching onto the Stranger Things bandwagon. It has a lot to say about 2017 and the “flyover country” that lead to our current situation. It’s thematically similar to Green Room, where a young man finds himself confronted with people he couldn’t believe existed in his own backyard.
The young protagonist in The Thing in the Woods, James, is a high school aged Best Buy employee who has moved out of Buckhead, the wealthiest district in Atlanta. While trying to beat some local kids at ATV racing, he stumbles upon a Lovecraftian creature who lives in the woods. James also discovers the strange cult lead by local restaurant owner Phillip Davidson that provides human sacrifices to this monster and, after he is blamed for a murder the monster causes, tries to prove his innocence.
The book has the plotting of a Goosebumps book. That’s not an insult. While the work is juvenile, it captures a similar spirit of youth R.L. Stine did. One character is said to be glad that the monster “doesn’t have to worry about heart disease” after eating a fat victim. There are scenes of secret meetings in the school yard and, of course, scenes of James trying to impress his crush Amber. And yes, the plot involves James getting grounded, which felt just as ominous to me now as those words did when I was younger. It’s familiar, but it felt appropriate for the material.
Horror is only scary when it feels like it’s something that can happen to you. I’ve never been scared by supernatural creatures. To me, it makes the situation to fantastical and separates it from the reality I live in. So the familiarity I felt with the material isn’t a detriment. Rather, it made me relate to the character’s plight.
Still, I wondered why the monster (which had apparently been worshiped by first nations people before “the white man came”) needed to be included at all. The cult itself was frightening enough. It recalls KKK meetings in the ’30s (particularly how the congregants refer to each other as “brother”) and it’s still something that’s happening today. The cult is made of up the sort of white supremacists that haunt the back woods of the internet today. They were scary to me because I’ve seen people who could very well be doing this.
The actual monster didn’t carry the same weight. But it did help set up a deeper mythology and mystery to the work. I at least wanted to know more about it and how Phillip used it to control people. But at least The Thing in the Woods provided memorable moments. It’s also a surprisingly quick read, perfect for this time of year. And the finally is a real page action-packed page turner.
The Thing in the Woods is an adolescent Southern Gothic novel by way of Clive Barker. It’s not just about creatures in the night. It’s about the sort of people who would use them to their advantage, and that’s what resonated far more than the tentacles and sharp teeth. That’s a message that seems especially poignant today.
You can check out The Thing in the Woods here.