The Drowned Forest
by Kristopher Reisz
Flux, $9.99 trade, ISBN-10 0738739103, February 2014
Holly and Jane have jumped off the bridge over their Alabama reservoir hundreds of times. But one day, Holly’s jump goes wrong. Her body never comes up, but something else does—a sad creature of mud, full of confusion and sorrow. Jane knows it’s Holly, somehow, trapped and mixed up with the river. But Holly doesn’t know she’s dead, and that anything she touches will die, too . . . even those she loves the most. Meanwhile, Jane’s family doesn’t believe what she knows about Holly. They are threatening to place Jane in a mental institution, and her pastor thinks she is crossing over into the Devil’s playground. In spite of her community’s doubts, Jane can tell it’s Holly, and she has to put her to rest.
This interesting but uneven Southern creature feature captures the imagination. Jane is horrified when she realizes her drowned friend Holly’s spirit still exists on earth, trapped in the reservoir where her body died. No one believes her except Holly’s boyfriend and grandfather, but soon a dangerous mud monster rises from the river, animated by Holly’s confused spirit. Even though Jane misses Holly, she knows they have to stop the strange creature. Everyone it touches sprouts flowers, which may sound whimsical, but the fast-growing vegetation will quickly overwhelm and kill a human body.
A subplot involving Jane hanging out with Holly’s boyfriend’s bandmates and learning to play guitar seems somewhat disconnected from the rest of the narrative, space that could perhaps have been better filled. The book also reads like an uneasy mixture of Christian fiction and folklore-inspired fantasy. While the main character holds her Christian (Baptist denomination) beliefs dear, Christian readers may be confused by the solution to the Holly creature, which is prayer fused with a bit of bayou magic. On the flip side, Jane focuses so much on the Bible and youth group that readers not raised with heavy religious influences might find relating to her a bit difficult.
Recommend to: Ghost story fans.
To buy or not to buy: Additional purchase.