In the House in the Dark of the Woods by Laird Hunt

In the House in the Dark of the Woods is a literary historical fairy tale that blends New England colonial morality with a strange magical game. A young woman leaves her man and son behind to go into the forest and pick berries, but she loses her way and her shoes. Or so it seems. She finds help in the woods and ends up in a house with a woman called Eliza who cares for her, but she knows she should return home. However, returning home might not be exactly as she thinks, and the horrors of the forest are not all they seem.

It feels important to go into this short novel with an awareness of the blurb or premise, as this sets up the right expectations of a style (eerie nature descriptions, uncertainty, confusion) and narrative (not something to be trusted). At first, it is mostly the kind of horror of being in a magical forest and not knowing what is going on, but as the book progresses it becomes both a weird dark game and, through clues about the characters’ pasts and depictions of literacy and the treatment of people, a New England gothic that highlights the horrors people can do. It isn’t really about witches, but does feel very much about the ways witches are tied to morality.

The novel is one that some people will find creepy and something to think about once the final pages are over, and others will find confusing and too ambiguous. Hunt does well to keep it moving forward and making sense as far as it is meant to, but also to give it a very unreal feeling that is why people are calling it a fairy tale as well as a kind of horror story. It calls to mind Angela Carter more than anything more New England and fans of books that are more allegorical or ambiguously unreal will want to give it a read.