Buehlman's Those Across the River a Literary Masterpiece of Horror
Publication Date: September 6, 2011
· Christopher Buehlman
Book Review: Those Across the River
by R.J. Carter
Published: September 2, 2011
A long while back, William Faulkner had coffee with Edgar Allan Poe, during which time Poe told him of some of his plans for writing stories designed to frighten the reader. Faulkner paid for both of them, returned home, and thought to himself, "Screw him, I'll show him how it's really done."
This is truth, although not actuality. Had it actually happened, the results might be something very much like Christopher Buehlman's Those Across the River, a gut-quaking horror written with a serious literary bent. This is no mere genre monster story or dime-a-dozen paranormal romance. Buehlman doesn't just establish himself as a competitor for the crown of King, but also as a player in the field of such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald.
Frank Nichols is trying to rebuild his life. Still battling his nightmares of the trenches of the Great War, he finds solace in the arms of the much younger Eudora -- the wife of one of his teaching peers at the university. The scandalous affair forces them both to flee for a better life, but in Depression-era America, there aren't many greener pastures to be found. Inheriting an estate from his aunt, Frank and Eudora set up house in Whitbrow, Georgia, where Eudora can teach grade school while Frank tries to resurrect his own academic career by researching a book about his grandfather, Louis Savoyard, who ran a nearby plantation. Savoyard was the type of cruel that made the Marquis d'Sade appear saitnly, and when the Confederates lost the war he had to be forced to free his slaves.
And that was only the beginning of the sorrows for the town of Whitbrow, sorrows that would be relived on a regular, ceremonial basis.
There are no spring-loaded cats in Buehlman's horror. Buehlman grabs you by the heart the way you boil a frog -- by slowly, gradually adjusting the heat until by the time the horror is upon you there's absolutely no way to put the book down. But what really sets his work apart is that he doesn't just tell a story, he uses words, symbolism, and every literary tool to his advantage to craft a work of art. If Buehlman repeats a line more than once in the book, perk up and pay attention, because it means more than you think it does, and it means it all the way to the end of the book. Nothing is wasted: no descriptive passage is padding, no line of dialogue is a throwaway. Every layer is essential to painting this fantastic yet realistic picture of the 1930s American South.
To be more specific about the revelations in Those Across the River would be to cheapen the experience. It would lend toward the possibility of potential readers thinking, "Oh, this is just another [insert favorite monster here] story." I assure you, it is not. It is gripping, compelling gothic horror in the most classical sense; an American Dracula that absorbs the reader into its seductive embrace through lush rhythms and a veneer of homespun innocence. You'll fall deeply in love with Those Across the River and have no need to nurse a guilt over having those feelings. You may, however, never sleep with the lights out again, and if you live near a woods you may have an urge to speak with a real estate agent soon.