Monday, April 25, 2011

Northwoods Deep / Joel Arnold

Reviewed by: JA Gill

Genre: Horror

Approximate word count: 95-100,000 words

Availability Kindle: YES    Nook: Yes    Paper: No
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon or B&N store


A widely published author, including stories in Cemetery Dance and Weird Tales, Joel Arnold is the recent recipient of the 2010 MN Artist Initiative Grant. Other stories available on Kindle include Leave no Wake, Three Collections, Snow Burn, Taking Care of Katrina, Bait and Other Stories, Bedtime Stories for the Apocalypse, and Death Rhythm. The author currently lives in Minnesota with his wife and two children. For more information visit the author’s blog.


In Joel Arnold’s latest novel, two sisters, the oldest, escaping an abusive ex-husband turned stalker, set-out on a canoe trip in Minnesota backcountry. Downstream, an indescribable evil as ancient as the ground it sleeps under grows restless with hunger.


A negative split is a term employed by marathoners to describe their race pace: start slow, finish fast. This is also the trajectory of most novels—the initial careful character sketches and diligent back-stories make way for faster and leaner plot lines as the story progresses.

Joel Arnold’s Northwoods Deep runs, then walks, then slows to a stroll, as if suddenly enjoying the view. In a work of horror, the effect is somewhat unsettling. When protagonists descend into a nightmare world, reminiscent of something out of an early Clive Barker fantasy, the pace lingers, as if the author is unwilling to move past their suffering until it becomes gratuitous. One questions whether the price exacted for moral redemption, the thematic bread and butter of the genre, is, in this case, commensurate to the depravity. Fortunately, when dealing with the extremes of mental and physical durability, Arnold has a wonderful way with description, if only a series of succinct observations, that make his characters immediately familiar despite the situation.

References to mythology, both esoteric and pop-culture, sprinkled like breadcrumbs throughout the novel, offer explanation where none is required and do little to add intended gravitas to what is already a captivating and plausible storyline. However, there is a certain pleasure seeing the Arnold whip quaint and kitschy folklore until it’s covered in blood and no longer recognizable. One moth-worn convention left undisturbed is the hapless Out-of-Towners—two all-American girls in this instance—stumbling into the backyard of a backwoods psychopathic old coot. To Arnold’s credit the ensuing orgy of violence comes to pass while matters are fittingly complicated as he seamlessly shifts between at least four main character third-person accounts. Northwoods Deep comes as close as anything in recent memory to detailing the behavioral traits of unadulterated malevolence.


Strong Sexual Content

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: **** Four stars

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