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Slow-Burn Psychological Horror

By Teabelly | Books | July 21, 2010 |

By Teabelly | Books | July 21, 2010 |

And I’m back to Stephen King, possibly overdosing on supernatural-related fiction and in need of a break from it, but this was at least less full on with its otherworldly elements. Here, 9-year-old Trisha goes hiking with her mother and older brother Pete in the woods in Maine. Her mother and Pete are constantly arguing since her parents divorced and their mother moved them away from their father and friends. Trisha hangs back on the trail, sick of listening to them, and wanders off down another trail to pee. She can still her them arguing from where she is, and so decides to take a shortcut to them through the trees. She then falls down a slope and becomes disoriented, but thinks she still knows the way. Until it becomes apparent that she doesn’t. What follows is Trisha’s battle for survival, as a town girl lost in an unfamiliar environment.

Luckily she is smart, and she makes what little food and water she has last. She decides to follow a creek, rationalizing that water will lead her to people. Unfortunately this takes her further and further from civilization, and the rescuers who believe a girl her age could not have walked very far. She spends her nights huddled up under her waterproof poncho, listening to the radio on her walkman. Sometimes she hears news of her own disappearance and search attempts, but mostly she listens to Red Sox games. Her favorite player is Tom Gordon, and she wears his baseball cap with signature across the brim.

Initially she thinks she will be found soon, but as the days wear on Trisha begins to lose hope. She has to forage for food, thankfully listening to her mother’s advice on which berries she could eat, but growing weaker and sicker as the creek water upsets her stomach and the endless walking takes its toll. There’s also fear to contend with, as Trisha feels something watching her in the trees. At first she tells herself it’s just her imagination, and not to be afraid. But later, as she weakens, she starts to hallucinate, picturing Tom Gordon walking with her as a guide, and other, more frightening things that she cannot determine are real or in her head.

This is a slow burner of a book, and much of the fear that comes from it is psychological rather than straight out horror. It’s the fear of what you would do if you were in Trisha’s situation: Would you survive lost in the woods for over a week? Would you as a 9-year-old? I don’t think I would have. I don’t think I would even now. I became incredibly attached to Trisha, which isn’t hard to do as she is the main focus of the book, but she’s also a likable child, brave and tenacious. She does make mistakes of course, but not out of stupidity; it’s just that she doesn’t know any better, but she’s trying her best. Every time something bad happened to her I felt it. I wanted her to be found so badly, and feared that she wouldn’t be. King offers you glimmers of hope for her and then snatches them away in the next sentence. And, as if being lost in the woods isn’t bad enough, there’s the added creepiness of the thing that is watching her. Or is it? Is it just Trisha’s fear and sickness creating something?

King describes Trisha’s journey vividly; you can almost feel the mosquitoes sucking at her flesh, the bites causing her skin to itch and swell, the hunger taking over and the ever-present fear niggling at her. Your hope stays alive as long as Trisha’s does, but there are moments when it wavers, and her breakdowns are very moving. I was less interested in the baseball bits, and the extended metaphor that goes on, but it works within the setting, and has a nice pay off at the end, so it’s merely my lack of knowledge of the game that’s an issue there. What I liked about it was that in the end it’s up to Trisha to save herself, and also discover whether she is worthy of survival. For anyone looking for an action-packed or horror-filled King book, you might be disappointed, but for a quick, fulfilling read, it’s a treat.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Teabelly’s reviews, do check out her blog, where she’s discussing Some Kind of Wonderful.

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