« Saying Uncle / Greg F. Gifune | Main | Occasional Demons / Rick Hautala »

The Woods Are Dark / Richard Laymon

Leisure Books / July 2008
Reviewed by: Vince A. Liaguno

The new Leisure edition of Richard Laymon’s The Woods Are Dark is testament to the kindness of time to writers and their work. Closing in on thirty years since its first publication in 1981, this classic horror tale of cannibalism finally hits bookshelves the way the late Laymon intended. Like his contemporary Jack Ketchum, whose own Off Season would fall victim to an editor’s merciless red pen that same year, Laymon was a new writer eager to see his work in print. The resulting experience of that enthusiasm was a literary butchering not unlike the one his characters in this blood-soaked novel suffer. Now, thanks in large part to the painstaking restoration of the original manuscript by daughter Kelly Laymon, this harrowing story of survival can make its way into readers’ hands uncut and reconditioned.

The novel opens with a chilling roadside encounter for two friends on their way to Yosemite for a weekend camping trip. Shaken by the incident that involves a severed human hand, Neala and Sherri stop at a roadside diner to regroup. But when they go to pay the tab, they stumble into a town conspiracy and are swiftly catapulted into terror. The Dills family simultaneously arrives on the scene – opting for a night’s lodging at the town’s motor inn. It takes mere pages before parents Lander and Ruth, their teenage daughter Cordelia, and her boyfriend Ben are also snatched by the locals and find themselves en route to a mysterious wooded destination. Students of fiction writing would be wise to note Laymon’s ability to kick-start a novel and dive right into the action in these opening chapters. The set-up is effectively simple and barely gives readers time to catch their breath. No gradual build-up in these Woods.

Girls, meet the Dills; Dill family, meet the girls. The group is left shackled to trees in a dense forest and quickly realizes that they’re an offering to something called the Krulls. The locals split and soon a group of human and barely human cannibals make their presence known to the terrified group. Fortunately, nubile Neala catches the eye of one of the locals – Johnny Robbins – who doubles back and releases the group as the Krulls move in for attack. What follows is lots of running and stumbling through the dark woods as the group tries to flee the savage cannibals in tense chase sequences. Soon the group fractures – sending Lander in search of his abducted wife, Cordelia and Ben in search of Lander, and Neala, Sherri, and Johnny in search of the highway.

Laymon splits the narrative into several subplots here – the most effective being the one concerning Lander Dills and his gradual descent into madness. More disturbing than the graphic scenes of cannibalism and rape peppered liberally throughout, the passages in which Lander comes to realize his inner dark side chill to the bone. (In fact, it’s the Lander Dills subplot that benefits most from the reintroduction of some 50-odd pages of original manuscript.) These alternating plotlines keep the action moving and gradually reveal the depths of depravity and savagery of the Krulls. Laymon layers in just enough mythology to plausibly explain the Krulls’ existence along the way and keeps readers guessing at which character will be added to the body count.

This new edition includes a fascinating forward by Kelly Laymon, who details the book’s publishing history and outlines its restoration. (For more on the remarkable literary puzzle of the book and how it was solved, check out DSM’s recent interview with Ms. Laymon.)

The new and improved version of The Woods Are Dark is like seeing an old friend for the first time after a makeover – familiar with just a hint of discovery. A must read for fans of the late, great dark scribe.

Purchase The Woods Are Dark by Richard Laymon.

Posted on Wednesday, August 27, 2008 at 01:10PM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend