Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Hanging Woods

Sanders, Scott Loring. 2008. The Hanging Woods.

What can I say about this one? Really? Truly? It's dark. It's depressing. It's truly dreadful--dreadful in content, not style. It's disturbing, very disturbing. A difficult read, a discomforting read. Warped. Twisted. And oh-so-wrong.

First sentence: "In 1975, when I was thirteen, I killed a fox. It happened a few weeks after I'd snuck into my mother's room and read her diary. That diary told me a lot of things that I didn't want to know. Or maybe I did want to know them. I can't say for sure."

The good news is that you should be able to tell fairly early on whether or not The Hanging Woods is for you. In the first chapter alone we've got the slaughtering of a fox and a chicken. (And the two aren't connected. The fox wasn't after the chicken.) In the second chapter, we see many signs of unhealthy relationships. Relationships between friends. Relationships between families. And we see our first human death. Very bizarre. Not exactly murder. Not exactly calculated. But strange indeed. And in the third chapter, we learn that our narrator, Walter, committed arson. He burned a house down. So right from the start you know this is going to be one dark-and-weird book. It's not for everyone. The language. The violence. The subject matter. It just paints a very dark and unpleasant portrait of humanity. Not that I'm denying that humans can be ugly and cruel and tortured and demented and perverted and whatnot. But dismal, dismal, very dismal.

The Hanging Woods is about the breakdown of friends, of family, of the mind itself.

Personally, I don't like dark and edgy all that much. I prefer my narrators a bit more sane. HOWEVER I know that some readers will appreciate this one. It is well written. If it had been poorly written, I wouldn't have found the strength to keep reading.

Edited to add: I slept on this one. Given it some more thought. And I wanted to add that it was really well done. When characters are so thoroughly written, so powerfully drawn that you have to keep reading even if you personally hate where they are going...then that says something about the writing. So for skills in writing, in characterization this one gets my approval.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Mothball's Blog said...

Hi Becky, My name is Scott Loring Sanders, and I'm the author of The Hanging Woods. I was perusing the internet today and saw your review. I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to read and review the book.
What I appreciated about your review was that you were open and honest, but didn't give away the major twists and turns in the story. You're right: it is dark and disturbing. It isn't a book for everyone. However, I was happy to see that you read it with an open mind. It might not be the book for you, but you recognized that some readers will really enjoy it. It seems you appreciated the writing and what I was trying to accomplish, even though it disturbed you.

The Hanging Woods has received mixed reviews from the national journals. A starred review from The Bulletin, and excellent reviews from Publisher's Weekly and the Horn Book. It has also received a couple of negative reviews. And that's fine. Like you said, the book isn't for everyone. But the problem I had with some of the negative reviews was that they gave away all of the twists and secrets that I'd worked so hard to keep hidden. But you didn't do that, so I thank you for being objective. I feel it is the job of a reviewer to give an overall impression of the book, not to give away the entire plot. It should be up to the reader to make those decisions for themselves. I think you did that quite well.

I hope you'll give my second novel, Gray Baby (Houghton Mifflin,) a try when it comes out in the spring of 2009. It still has its dark spots, but overall it is a much more tender story that I think will be more up your alley. And if you pay close attention, you'll even see some links to The Hanging Woods within. It's definitely not a sequel, but there are a few subtle ties.

Thanks again for taking the time to look at The Hanging Woods. For the love of reading, Scott

Debi said...

Excellent review, Becky! I have to admit that while I definitely enjoy "dark and disturbing" sometimes, I generally have a really hard time with the killing of animals. Still, you've left me incredibly intrigued with this one...and I suspect I'll be searching it out.

Clare - The Super Mommy Club said...

Wow what a fabulous cover! Great review Becky - I'm not sure this one is for me as I'm not too good with animal killing. I have a feeling this may become a much talked about book.