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Waif by Samantha Kolesnik [Book Review]

Samantha Kolesnik’s novella ‘True Crime’ arrived with a big splash in 2020 to almost universal critical and reader acclaim. Its bleak and gritty tale of two siblings escaping an abusive home to embark on a series of brutal murders was one of the most talked-about books of the year, and with good reason. Kolesnik has followed this up with ‘Waif’, a novella that is markedly different to ‘True Crime’, but no less worthy of the same praise that the latter enjoyed.

Angela is a less than happily married woman who, to the outside world at least, has everything a person could ever want. Behind closed doors, she tolerates, but cannot abide, her brutish husband for all the things he can provide, but she still finds herself craving the things he cannot. A chance encounter at a local market begins her slow descent into obsession as Angela begins to discover a strange and disturbing world lying just beneath the veneer of her suburban status quo.

Waif – Samantha Kolesnik

Encountering back-alley surgeons, underground fetish videos, all-women gangs and extreme body modification, Angela’s journey will take her to some strange and dangerous places, for amongst society’s misfits and outcasts, she may just find the thing that is missing from her life. 

I can’t say that I was remotely expecting ‘Waif’ to go the places it did. It is a very different book to ‘True Crime’ for a lot of reasons. It is a little less bleak (although it still does get very dark in places) and a lot more surreal, and certainly more grotesque. The book leans a lot more heavily into themes of sex and body horror, so much so that the synopsis reads like something Clive Barker could have written. The result on the page is very uniquely Kolesnik’s voice though. She is laser-focused on her characters and how they react to and experience the bizarre goings-on around them, and they are nothing if not a colourful cast, with Angela’s surgery obsessed husband, undergoing extreme procedures as a passive-aggressive marital power play, or her new friend Reena, who has worked for a niche, underground pornographer after having body modifications to transform herself into a mermaid. It may get a little odd at times, but it is incredibly engaging and you can hardly accuse Kolesnik of a lack of original ideas.

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While the content may be a little more outlandish than ‘True Crime’, the book still tackles an array of challenging subject matter and does so using characters who are each flawed in their own way, often to the point of being irredeemably unlikeable. It is a disturbing journey and we don’t necessarily have the most pleasant of company to guide us on it, meaning the book may not be to everyone’s tastes, but I’m firmly of the opinion that the most challenging books tend to be the ones with something worthwhile to say, and the themes of feminism, trauma, control and desire come through strongly and leave a lasting impact.

Waif is completely insane, and I loved every minute of it. It reads like a Jack Ketchum reimagining of Alice in Wonderland at times and if that isn’t a hell of a selling point, I don’t know what is.

Richard Martin

Richard Martin

Reviewer

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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