by Christopher Golden
Review by Drew Bittner
Bantam Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 055338208x
Date: 29 March, 2005 List Price $12.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
What happens when you lose yourself? and recovery lies in finding a stranger? How would you react when the one you love becomes a hateful shadow of herself? What would you sacrifice for love? These are questions that underlie Christopher Golden?s excellent new novel, Wildwood Road.
On the way home from a pre-Halloween costume party, Michael Dansky dozes off behind the wheel and wakes to a living nightmare. He nearly runs over a little girl wandering alone on a dark highway. His wife, Jillian, is passed out in the back seat and Michael is half-drunk himself, but he decides to take the girl?who calls herself Scooter?to her home.
Following her directions, Michael drives to an isolated, ramshackle mansion. He escorts Scooter inside but then becomes disoriented and terrified by random noises and sensory phenomena in the house. More baffling, however, is evidence that nobody lives in the house? or has for a very long time. Scooter?s last words haunt Michael as he seeks escape from the horrors of the mansion: ?Find me.?
Michael tries to unravel the mystery Scooter represents, but cannot make heads or tails of her story. Although his work as graphic artist for an ad agency competes for his attention, as does his politically ambitious wife, he cannot let go of the compulsion to help Scooter. As he tries to figure things out, even to the point of retracing his steps to that hellish house, he becomes aware that he is being watched, perhaps even stalked, by sinister figures in black. He realizes they want him to give up his search but refuses to relent?thus provoking an attack on his wife. She is assaulted by a group of them but seems physically unharmed afterward. Evidence of her real injury comes the next morning.
Jillian has always been loving and warm to Michael, as shown in flashbacks to their first meeting, first date, engagement and early days together. After the attack, however, she is cold and vicious to him. The sinister things stole her emotional core, something inside that made her capable of love, and Michael is stricken with guilt at realizing he?s brought this on her.
His work suffers and he moves out, still struggling to understand what?s happened, knowing only that Scooter is somehow key to this. He sees the girl everywhere and begins to suspect something of her true nature?that she is fighting the creatures in black, who feed on those like her, and that Jillian?s only hope lies in solving the mystery of Scooter, the terrible mansion and the creatures that lurk within.
Along the way, Michael discovers others who have been similarly maimed by the creatures, including a psychotic woman with a link to Scooter. As he puts these pieces together, Michael realizes that he must find the house on Wildwood Road for a final reckoning? where Jillian?s fate, and that of many others, will be decided once and for all.
Golden does the remarkable in this book, creating a loving young couple and then putting them through the singular hell of alienation, disaffection and rediscovery. The Twilight Zone often used the motif of our loved ones being used as a mask for something alien and terrible; Golden employs this to brilliant effect, finding the things that are most unsettling, most disturbing. Perhaps everyone fears not really knowing the ones we love, and that comes into play directly in scenes such as Jillian?s casual, brutal betrayal of Michael?s love.
He?s also created an uncommon hero in Michael. Not a fighter by nature, his skills give him a roundabout way of tackling the evil he must confront, while his love for Jillian is cruelly tested. Still, he has the most essential requirement anyone needs to be a hero: the stubborn unwillingness to give up. He is also confronted with the fear of his own insanity, when Scooter continues to show up in the most unlikely places.
Those who are seeking slam-bang visceral horror may not appreciate a subtle, atmospheric work like this?but fans of real horror will be well rewarded. Recommended.