Call me a sucker, but like anybody who grew up in the non-Chicago Midwest, I get excited when my own backyard shows up in a book or a movie. Scott Thomas’s book, Violet, actually visits Kansas again after his hype-generating debut Kill Creek. Violet more than lives up to expectations, insulating mother Kris and daughter Sadie alone in a rural vacation home, without any one to call them away from their own worst demon, the title character. Kris and Sadie must navigate grief, depression, and anger together if they can escape from Violet’s evil influence.
Kris and Sadie’s relationship goes from being strained to creepy in a wonderfully dingy prairie town. After the death of Kris’s cheating husband, Jonah, Kris packs up her ten-year-old daughter Sadie and spirits her away to Pacington, Kansas, on the shores of a man-made lake that flooded disastrously. As Sadie plays in the house on the shores of the lake, Kris notices her little girl talking to someone who isn’t there. Pretty soon, Kris starts sees a shadow of a little girl playing with Sadie, and memories start flooding back about why she hasn’t been back in so long. Pacington oozes small-town creepy, while thankfully avoiding too many stereotypes. The one cop seems jaded rather than heroic or folksy. The cafe serves mediocre food. There are no true allies among the town full of dying businesses, in an accurate though unflattering picture of small towns.
The book opens with their arrival in Pacington, but through flashback and memory, often shifts in time back to Kris’s marriage with Jonah and her own childhood at the lake. It does take about two hundred pages for Violet to first appear, but when she does, the emotional landscape creates the perfect environment for trauma. Once Violet infests her ghostly self into Sadie’s life, she digs back into Kris’s psyche, where she can wreak havoc. Violet’s long, infectious endgame accelerates the plot once Kris becomes aware of the danger. Violet’s payoff is well-worth the setup that occupied nearly half of the book.
Violet kept me up half the night from reading it, and it will probably keep me up again going over it for the next week. This ghost story festers in the American heartland, and plays on personal fears and family tragedy. A worthy follow from a creepy new horror machine.
Four out of five stars
Page count: 433
Favorite quote: “Kris remained for one last moment, long enough to see Violet sinking down, her black hair billowing around her pale face, dark eyes wide and staring, arms reaching up as if to embrace her long-lost friend.”