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Northwoods Deep Paperback – June 21, 2011
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About the Author
Joel Arnold is the author of several novels. His short stories and articles have appeared in dozens of publications, including Weird Tales, Black Static, Chizine, and Cemetery Dance's anthologyShivers VII. In 2010 he received both a MN Artists Initiative Grant as well as the Speculative Literature Foundation's Gulliver Travel & Research Grant.
Arnold teaches writing at student workshops throughout Minnesota and has given presentations about the Ox Cart trails of Minnesota and the Dakotas to several historical societies and other groups interested in history. He also serves as the literary director for the Savage Arts Council.
Arnold lives near the Twin Cities in Minnesota with his wife, two kids, two cats, a dog and a ball python. Plus he makes a mean coffee cake.
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Top customer reviews
There're strange happenings going on here from the get-go, and Joel wastes no ink acquainting us with two of the main characters. Unfortunately, one of them has a restraining order against the other, not that the other seems to be bothered by this. So, feeling the need to get away for awhile, Carol and her sister Brenda decide to go on a canoeing trip up a river, for a few days. Little do they know that Carol's ex-husband (see "restraining order") is in hot pursuit, wanting to confront his once-wife and "talk" with her, away from civilization.
Now, in some places the suspense was drawn out too much for me, and I found myself hoping things would "get back to the action." But that's my only criticism, and this is horror. Joel has a way with imagery, and there were more than a few lines that made me shake my head and cringe. Just *cringe*. The story clips along at a steady pace and soon enough, the ladies are on the river, and that's all I'm going to say about it. I felt the river sequence was essentially the equivalent of that first hill your roller coaster climbs... you know the one, where things are building up to that first drop and the rush of "omigawdwe'redead! that crackles through you. Except, with the rollercoaster, there are features to keep you safe.
There were some truly intense moments in this piece of work, the likes I haven't read in a very long time. And the suspense in the last forty pages or so was worthy enough of any Stephen King book. In all sincerity, Joel is a very, very twisted gentleman.
A good book. I'll be reading more.
Well I'm not. Because for me, this book was more rare than a page turner. I did not devour it in one sitting. This book was savored slowly over several days, even though I did not want to put it down. I forced myself to put it down. To make it last, simply because I don't know when I have enjoyed a book more, and I didn't want it to end. I do know it will probably be a long time before I find another one as good. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for more from this author.
Something's in the woods - something ancient. Will you survive it?
"Northwoods Deep" is what I would call a true horror. It has a dark power at its heart with which you become acquainted over the story by way of several nasty death scenes. It has a parallel human story that plays itself out until it becomes entwined with core horror story. It has various rather adult and - to be honest - depraved scenes along the way. So that out of the way, how successful was the book for me?
Firstly, removing any ancient evil from the storyline for the moment, what was left was really well told. The story of a fragmented family is woven from multiple points of view. The brother who killed his mother in a drunk driving accident, the father lamenting the loss of his wife, the sister trying to escape from an abusive ex-husband and the youngest sister who tries to keep them all together. All the good stuff is here: abuse, despair, guilt, forgiveness (or lack thereof) and even a family secret of two. For me, this is where the novel really excelled. I could feel Carol's despair in trying to escape her demented ex-husband and his cronies. I could appreciate Jack's ongoing struggle with the demon bottle and his relentless guilt over his mother's death. I could understand Allen's mixture of numbness and lament over the loss of his wife. I could even enjoy Mitch's point of view as he descended into a violent insanity over his obsession with Carol - with the help of his truly horrifying mother.
I believe if the author had decided to keep this as a completely human thriller, it could have been tweaked to be very effective. The only issue I had was that in the weaving of the present and background stories, I felt there was a bit of an over-share. Some elements of back-story were hinted at (quite successfully I feel) earlier on and I really enjoyed that I was able to draw my own conclusions and flesh out the probable details myself. I didn't then need the details to be delivered on a plate later in the novel. I felt a bit like the author didn't trust me to connect the dots with the previous information he'd given me. It took a bit of the shine off an otherwise fascinating and well told story.
Now to address the "ancient evil" or supernatural horror aspect of the story. The author utilises the previous survivor mechanism in "Northwoods Deep" and as expected the survivor becomes involved albeit rather superficially with our cast. It is through his involvement that we get to see the What that inhabits our destination. Although the plot device is a fairly obvious one, I like how it's employed, particularly because the author restrains himself from releasing historic, mythological details that would have, in my opinion, weighed down the story unnecessarily.
The How of our evil is both quite clear in some regards and completely mystifying in others. We see the actions through the use of a strange and unsettling character named Meyer and Watson, his dog. It's through Meyer's eyes that we experience some rather shocking and depraved scenes. We see the author walking the fine line between horrifying and horrifyingly pornographic, but I feel that Arnold maintains his balance successfully mainly due to his control of the details - just enough to horrify and sicken. That said, the more sensitive or squeamish of readers may not enjoy this aspect of the novel.
I think the Why is where the author reveals a few more layers of darkness to this story which reflects the evil back from the supernatural and into the natural. I like this kind of reversal in a horror story, where we understand that the evil is not some remote inhuman force, but is actually found in us, or that we're somehow complicit in its manifestation.