Two monsters lurk on Mattie’s mountain. The first is her husband, William, a harsh man as likely to starve, berate or beat Mattie as he is to make sure she’s safe. The other is an unknown terror in the woods, a clawed beast that strings its kills up in the trees as if displaying a macabre collection. William is convinced that it’s a demon. Mattie isn’t so sure. But when a trio of strangers bent on photographing the strange creature suddenly appear on the mountain, Mattie knows that no matter what the truth actually is, the situation can only end badly.
With its visceral depictions of gore and emotional and physical abuse, Christina Henry’s Near the Bone can be a difficult read. At times, it inspires cold sweats of terror. At others, it causes stomach-clenching levels of dread. As Mattie and her strangers move around the mountain, we feel rather than see the sinister intelligence dogging their every step and threatening to turn them into piles of bones. Bigger than any bear, with razor-sharp claws and a nearly human intellect, the beast lurks just offstage, all the more terrifying for its incomplete profile. It is humanity’s primeval fears given form.
Near the Bone is a tale of survival in more ways than one, pulling readers through Mattie’s struggle against both her husband and the unknown terror in the woods. Just as she must deal with the terror of the unknown beast, Mattie must also come to terms with what she doesn’t remember of her own past, including just how she and William came to live on the mountain. That part of the tale isn’t an easy one to read. As the book opens, Mattie is meek, even pitiable, weakened by years of malnutrition and physical and psychological abuse, a far cry from the typical heroines of the monster-slasher subgenre. Even as the book progresses and she begins to process her trauma, Mattie is far more practical than heroic, more cautious than selfless. In short, she is believable rather than fantastic, a trait that makes rooting for her success all the more nerve-racking.
Henry is the author of more than a dozen novels, including the Chronicles of Alice series, and she may have written her best book yet. Near the Bone features compelling and creative characters, descriptions of snow so realistic that they’ll make you reach for a blanket and a monster so terrifying that it is sure to haunt the dreams of even the most stoic reader. Best for people with a strong stomach, Near the Bone is a terror-ridden yet poetic hike that will leave your nerves frazzled and heart aching.