Palmetto by Ania Ahlborn [Book Review]
Ask me who my favorite horror author writing today is and I will no doubt launch into a lengthy explanation of why everyone’s answer to that question should be Ania Ahlborn.
Her books are frequently bleak, always scary, and boast some of the most well-developed and often flawed characters, in any form of fiction, period. She has successfully tackled all manner of horrors best sub-genres, whether that be hauntings (Within These Walls), creature features (The Shuddering), the supernatural (Seed), or just good old-fashioned psychopaths (The Neighbors) and with her latest novella, ‘Palmetto’, she explores themes of paranoia and loss of control via a decidedly skin-crawlingly unpleasant setting of a bug-infested house.
Kim and Eddie are happy, young newlyweds with their first child on the way. Hoping to start their new life together in the best way possible, they make an offer on a dream home. It’s way out of their price range, so both are pleasantly surprised when their offer is accepted, and cannot wait to begin settling in.
The closer Kim gets to moving day, the more she begins to suspect that they may have made a terrible mistake. Strange and unexplainable visions have begun to plague her and her trepidation is confirmed once they arrive at their new home and find it infested with Palmetto bugs. While Eddie seems oddly unfazed, Kim becomes increasingly obsessed with the insects and their seeming inability to rid themselves of them; a fact that becomes all the more concerning with the arrival of her newborn child…
As of writing, ‘Palmetto’ is currently available only as a strictly limited printing from Thunderstorm Books, or via a now sold-out Night Worms subscription package.
I’m hopeful that a wider release is just around the corner, and more people get an opportunity to pick this one up, as while the author is a rightfully acclaimed novelist, her novellas are equally effective (see ‘I Call Upon Thee’ for a prime example) and ‘Palmetto’ is no exception.
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Reading this book made my skin crawl.
Anyone with even a mild aversion to cockroaches and other creepy crawlies is best advised to stay well clear because Ahlborn is incredibly effective at setting a scene, and when that scene is a kitchen full of skittering bugs, climbing in food, popping up out of sinks or (*gasp*) crawling across someone’s skin, it will live rent-free in your head for a very long time. I can count on one hand the number of books I’ve read that have caused an actual, physical reaction in me, and I could honestly feel the tickle of little legs running across me for a fair portion of this book. You have been warned!
One thing I loved about ‘Palmetto’ is its ambiguity (which I appreciate may not be to everyone’s tastes). As we are being told the story by a narrator who, by her own admission, is growing increasingly obsessive and unpredictable in her behaviour, it is not a given that she is an entirely reliable narrator. The state of the infestation, and the impact it is having on Kim, is great, to say the least, which makes Eddie’s almost indifferent reaction (especially given he is otherwise painted as a thoughtful and attentive husband) somewhat questionable. Wondering how much (if any) of Kim’s experiences are imagined or exaggerated, and to what extent, was a big part of the book’s appeal to me and it’s kept just subtle enough so as to be an intriguing afterthought without taking anything away from the story itself.
Palmetto is another winner from Ania Ahlborn and bears all the characteristics of her best work (psychological horror, strong characters, helpless situations and a generally sombre tone) while, as always, offering her readers something new. While I wouldn’t necessarily mark it as an ideal starting point for new readers (see ‘Seed’ or ‘Brother’ in that regard), especially given its current scarcity, it is everything you’d want from an Ania Ahlborn book, and I consider that a very high bar indeed.
Richard Martin started reading horror books at a young age, starting with R L Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Point Horror’ series. He traumatized himself at the age of twelve when he read Stephen King’s ‘IT’, and never looked back. He is currently based in the UK, where he lives with his partner and an inappropriate amount of books.
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