At the start of this year, I took on the Goodreads Reading Challenge, putting an insane amount of books I quite simply don’t have time to read if I intend to work, write, parent, husband, eat, or sleep at some point this year. Still, I’ve kept to it because, fuck, why the hell not? Some books are better than others. Some I don’t finish because they’re fucking awful. Some are fucking great. And some I absolutely loved.
Here’s one of those books.
I don’t have the blurbin’ power of Brian Keene, but, for what it’s worth: “Rachel Autumn Deering’s Husk is a stunning, heart-pounding (and heart-wrenching) story that will force you to read one more page, and then one more, and then another, until you take in this entire novella in one sitting.”
In Husk, writer Rachel Autumn Deering effortlessly creates the world and the voice of a veteran suffering from PTSD and forced to rebuild his life after his final tour. Kevin joined the military when his grandparents died, his last-living relatives. While fighting, his unit is attacked and his best friend is violently killed right in front him. Now Kevin’s come home, left with just the broken pieces of his life prior to serving, the pieces of his time in uniform, and not much else. Worse, he’s begun to see things, out of the corners of his eyes, and those things are growing bolder.
The first thing that strikes a reader when they start Husk is the voice. Not necessarily the voice of the characters, but of the narration. This is a story one could imagine hearing told in the oral tradition. The setting for the vast majority of the novella is in the South, but it doesn’t fall into the pit of stereotype; this isn’t caricature. More, the narration itself is almost a character, filling in the gaps between dialogue like the side-comments of a trusted friend.
Kevin and, later, Samantha are fleshed-out figures, done quickly in keeping with the overall stories length and when the sense of doom builds, this makes the inevitable all the more impactful. Even characters with almost no page-time–the receptionist in Kevin’s doctor’s office, Samantha’s parents–breathe freely here, moving throughout the world in a way that the reader senses that, when the scene cuts away from them, they might still continue moving and going about their business. Deering doesn’t belabor the characterization, choosing key details that will resonate with the reader. The reader knows someone like Samantha or Samantha’s mother or even Kevin’s best friend in the service.
The novella hinges on one conceit for the reader–is what Kevin seeing real or not? Honestly, at the end of the day, you could go either way and not get much of an argument from me (Deering, although building some ambiguity, tips her hand a bit, but not enough that to argue one way or the other would be a fool’s game; YMMV). Because of that seeming-ambiguity, the novella works all the more; it forces you to think of it after the final too-soon page passes through your fingers and you close the cover.
Really, the only problem with Husk is the length. Deering built a world quickly and threw a ton of plot lines out into the fields; while she ties everything up, you won’t want her to. Husk doesn’t beg to be a full-fledged novel, but you will. Easily.
On a more subjective note, I tend to cull my collection of books pretty regularly; only so many bookcases in my house. Will I reread this? Have I reread it in the past decade? Books that answer in the negative get donated. Still, on the top shelf of my tallest bookcase are my go-tos. My absolutely favorite novels. David Morrell’s First Blood is up there, as well as Damien Angelica Walters’s Paper Tigers and Harlan Ellison’s Shatterday and Eddie Little’s Another Day in Paradise, among others. When I finished Husk, I put it on the top shelf. It fit right in.
You can pick up Husk here. Go. Buy. Read.