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It remains to be seen how much of an impact COVID-19 will have upon the worlds of fiction.

A few works have tapped into this dark well in the past year, but most authors seem content to either set their work in an undefined pre-pandemic time or simply ignore the situation altogether. Rookfield is not one of those books. In his new novella, Gordon B. White dumps us right in the middle of the crisis, and by not explicitly naming or detailing the virus, he tightens its connections to the previous pandemics hinted at by the plague doctor masks everybody seems to wear in his strange little town.

Cabot is a big city man with big city plans, so he’s less than impressed when his ex-wife Leana absconds to the country with their son Porter, and despite his distaste for the rural trappings of Rookfield, he sets out in his dove-white Maserati to fetch his son back. We quickly understand that Cabot is a man unused to being told no, and while we wince at his brash and entitled actions – most notably, refusing to wear a mask despite knowing he’s been sick before and is showing clear signs of having been infected again – we’re drip-fed hints of his better nature, something he is perhaps chasing as much as his estranged family and something that will serve him better than his toxic need to be needed. When he confronts Leana’s cousins, who are keeping her and Porter tucked away at their property, he cruelly mentions that their actions won’t make up for the death of their daughter; later, he recalls the bright bond he built with the girl in their brief time together and we understand that her senseless end hit him harder than he would ever admit. Cabot is capable of reflection and perhaps even actual kindness, which leaves us hoping he will understand the ramifications of his actions and that his story won’t play out as a simple morality tale of the bully’s comeuppance. Thankfully, White has something much stranger in mind than that. Is Cabot headed for a spurt of personal growth instead? The answer is both yes and no…

ROOKFIELD BY GORDON B. WHITE BOOK COVER

White’s uncomplicated yet evocative prose unfolds with a mellifluous ease, lending itself to some startling and striking images

– orange parking tickets flying from a windscreen are compared to burning doves, and his array of plague masks grows grander and weirder by the page. His presentation of a forgotten rural hamlet ticks the usual boxes one expects from such forbidding folk fare, but then he subverts expectations by having the town’s shopkeepers even more observant of pandemic mask policies than their city counterparts. They have their own reasons, though, as well as their own way of dealing with things, and the reveal of Rookfield’s secret is both grossly strange and strangely hopeful.

Gordon B. White has one collection of weird fiction to date, As Summer’s Mask Slips and Other Disruptions, and on the strength of “Birds of Passage” (which scored a well-deserved spot in Ellen Datlow’s The Best Horror of the Year Volume Twelve) and now this novella, it seems clear that he has a great deal to offer the discerning reader of dark fancies. If you’re weary of your own walls and fancy a short getaway, take a trip down to Rookfield… but remember your responsibilities. Always wear a mask, but be aware: sometimes, more than the truth is revealed when it slips.

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Matthew R. Davis

Matthew R. Davis

Author

Matthew R. Davis is an author and musician based in Adelaide, South Australia, whose novelette “Heritage Hill” was shortlisted for a 2020 Shirley Jackson Award and the WSFA Small Press Award. His books are the horror collection If Only Tonight We Could Sleep (Things in the Well, 2020) and the novel Midnight in the Chapel of Love (JournalStone, 2021). Find out more at matthewrdavisfiction.wordpress.com.

The Midnight in the Chapel of Love book cover by Matthew R Davis

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