Wood by Robert Dunbar (2012): Uninvited Books
In the woods around the city, something lurks. Something dangerous. Something…hungry.
On the streets in the outskirts of the city, and on the outskirts of society, a teenager escapes from the cloying control of her caretakers to find her Nana.
The hungry creature is evolving, changing. Moving into the city.
A lonely man, self-exiled and distant, finds a spark of humanity even as he wonders if he is a monster.
The real monster slithers and scratches on rutted city streets, seeking new prey.
In his novella, Wood, Robert Dunbar combines gritty suspense with dextrous prose and upturned fairy tale tropes to create a truly creepy tale of urban horror.
Rosaria, a worldly-yet-innocent inmate of a juvenile institution, escapes to find her sick Nana, a wise and loving woman to whom Rosaria is desperate to return. She travels, lost in the wild spaces of the city (much like her prototypical red-hooded ancestor) as a beast lurks in the woods, watching, waiting. She arrives at the house of Dick Wood (yes, that is his real name), a lonely man whose self-exile and depression make him wonder if he’s human anymore–if he has a heart. Soon, both Dick and Rosaria will learn what is truly monstrous just as the creature learns what it means to human.
Dunbar’s descriptions of the ever-changing and moving monster are chilling–combined with his expert pacing, the tale never drags up until the final passages. His use of fairy tale tropes and references, as well as a creature born of the detritus of human habitation combine to chill at a primal level. The story is multi-layered and archetypical–as well as being a good old-fashioned monster story.
The only point where the story falters is in the final passages. Dick and Rosaria’s reactions to the creature are so subdued that they threatened the suspension of disbelief. Both lacked the level of panic and revulsion that would certainly be present when faced with this monstrosity in their neighborhood, attacking them where they live. Nevertheless, the ending is thoughtful and unpredictable, putting the cap on what is revealed to be a very unconventional tale told through unconventional means.
As per usual, Robert Dunbar takes a traditional horror tale and turns it into something much deeper, using primal tropes instead of gore and splatter to create literate–and literal–chills.