Book Review: Horrid (2020) by Katrina Leno
My very first post on this website was a review of Katrina Leno's You Must Not Miss. Since I LOVED that book, save the ending, I had to try out Leno's new horror novel. Unfortunately, everything I loved about her previous book wasn't there in this one.
Can we talk about how GORGEOUS the cover is? It's delightfully disturbing.
After the death of her father, Jane and her mother Ruth are broke with nowhere left to go but east--east from California to Maine, where Ruth grew up. Ruth inherited her childhood home after the passing of her mother a couple of years ago, so when they arrive, it's dark and ominous. When Jane tries to bring up the weird, human-like noises she hears around the house, Ruth is suspiciously quiet. In fact, Ruth hardly spends time in the house at all, and Jane wonders if she's losing her mind.
The characters, as their names suggest, are very non-descript. This goes for Jane, Ruth, her friends Alana and Susie, her co-worker Will, and everyone else I might be forgetting. I can think of maybe one adjective to describe each of these characters. Other than that, Ruth was the only one that felt integral to the plot. The others had very small roles that arguably could have been removed.
The story feels largely plotless. There isn't much going on other than Jane trying to figure out what (or who) is haunting her house. Because the supporting characters don't have anything at stake, there isn't a lot of subplot action going on. To be fair, there is a surprise subplot that shows up at the end, which makes for a very exciting ending, but the first eighty percent of the book is pretty dull and one-dimensional.
Beyond that, it was monotomous. It pretty much went like this: Jane comes home from school. She's home alone because her mom is out to dinner with co-workers. Jane hears something weird from upstairs. She checks it out but thinks she's going crazy. Her friend from back home texts her, and Jane has texted back without any recollection of having sent anything. Ruth comes home. Jane asks questions about the spooky house and her mother's past, but she's really allusive about it.
She also spends a lot of time thinking about her dad not being around anymore, cooking meals, cleaning up after meals, socializing with her friends, talking about Agatha Christie books with her cute co-worker Will, and working at the book store/coffee shop.
That's the extent of the plot. Again, the last twenty percent is exciting and disturbing, but there's a slow build-up. Very... slow... build up.
Leno's writing has a very nice flow to it. I breezed through it without feeling caught up on clunky phrases, excessive descriptions, or odd word choices. In fact, the writing created the spooky atmosphere that the cover suggests. Is this the most atmospheric novel I've ever read? No. But I think most readers have some image in their head of what Maine looks and feels like in the fall, so Leno didn't need to do much heavy lifting in that respect.
I was surprised to find, however, that her writing is not quite as evocative as it was in You Must Not Miss. Maybe it's because You Must Not Miss is more impressionistic and surreal than Horrid. I can't blame Leno for changing up her prose from book to book (in fact, this is the mark of a talented and versatile writer), but I miss having that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as I read. I blame the characters and plot more than the actual writing, but I didn't feel nearly as invested in Jane as I did Magpie.
My rating (out of five):
I would have given this a 2.5 if Goodreads had let me. I even contemplated giving this a three but ultimately decided to round down because of the aforementioned observations: flat, boring characters and a tedious plot. I liked the atmosphere, the ending, and the quiet coziness of it all, but plot and character are huge. Without those foundations, you're not set up very well for a good story.
I think I also decided to give this two stars because I expected more from Leno, whom I know is a talented and capable writer. I know she can do better than this.