Just read Antosca’s Midnight Picnic, which is based on the (correct) observation that the West Virginia woods are lousy with ghosts. As a weekender with a cabin in the WV panhandle I can confirm that we spend our nights in battle against the restless dead; our days are spent smiling and agreeing with our neighbors that it is “so beautiful and peaceful here.” So that’s the novel’s irresistible launch point, and what follows is action that feels continuous and lyric save for those moments when the main character, Bram, transmits the memories and emotions of other characters.
Psychological horror sucks because in narrative art, psychology is tyrannical: take a pill, get some therapy, have a break-through moment with the parent-fiend, and all the monsters fade away or at least settle down. If not, become the monster. However, Antosca eschews conventional emotional entry and exit ramps, preferring instead to dive right into an environment of terror and staying there, pretty much. We don’t really have a coherent sense of Bram’s BIG PROBLEM prior to the start of his dark adventure, and the overwhelming majority of experiences are interpreted within an alternate realm, using that realm’s rules. My own dramatic expectations are provincial, so I resisted Bram’s immediacy at first (some evidence points to the draft having spent time in first person), and I wanted him to do more to earn my attention. But soon I began to appreciate Bram’s facility: he was designed to channel the sadness of the other characters. Their stories, more showy than Bram’s, are focused and startling. Also inevitable. As soon as we meet Marian, for example, we know what’s in store. Suspense about her fate is not the point.
For me, the novel’s most major accomplishment may be one that no one else cares about: Antosca writes about the influence of nightscapes, particularly those of the rust belt and Appalachia, on the lonesome mind. I am no less than rocked by certain details, like the glow of a distant strip mall, the constancy of which is as troubling and spooky as shadows in the woods. The strip mall is a haunted place—well of course it is.
That’s all I want to say right now. I loved the book, and it surprised and pleased me. I have a lot of questions though, probably because I consumed it in one sitting, with my own fussy dogs harassing me as if they knew how the damned thing ended. If you like dogs, dads, and dead kids, this book is for you.
ps--yes I read a copy that was hard to read. Still enjoyed it though. Big time.