Short Take: “The Tangled Woods,” Emily Raboteau

Pros: Vivid
Cons: Annoying characters; rambling
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Emily Raboteau’s novella The Tangled Woods (Dark Corners collection) follows a man and his wife and child as they go on vacation together. Reginald is a vicious film critic who wishes he was still young and adventurous, and who is more than unsatisfied at the compromises he’s had to make in his life. He’s sleeping with his teaching assistant, his wife has grown into exactly the kind of person he hates, and his son drives him crazy. He’d rather go vacationing in the wilderness, but his wife has pushed them into going to a lodge where there are lots of activities for their son Thurgood. As he and Thurgood try in vain to solve a wizard’s quest live-action game, Reginald comes into conflict with a few others around him.

The style rambles a bit. A chunk is taken up by a nightmare of Reginald’s, for example, that I felt didn’t contribute that much. All of the characters Reginald encounters are seriously annoying. On the one hand this is partly a case of excellently depicting Reginald’s point of view, but it also makes for a very obnoxious story in a lot of ways. It’s just not much fun reading about all of the most annoying stereotypes of humanity. In particular Reginald is definitely not a likable character, and he isn’t redeemed by anyone else. The writing style is very vivid, which is good–it’s impressive how realistic the annoying people are, but in some ways that just makes reading about them worse.

This is, overall, a well-written story, but it just isn’t what I’m looking for when going for some horror escapism.

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