Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The Novella Files: Crossroads by Laurel Hightower

Laurel Hightower. Crossroads [Off Limits Press, 2020]

Accolades: Ladies of Horror Fiction Nominee for Best Novella (2020)

Genre: Horror

Executive Summary: How far would you go to bring back someone you love?

When Chris's son dies in a tragic car crash, her world is devastated. The walls of grief close in on Chris's life until, one day, a small cut on her finger changes everything.

A drop of blood falls from Chris's hand onto her son's roadside memorial and, later that night, Chris thinks she sees his ghost outside her window. Only, is it really her son's ghost, or is it something else—something evil?

Soon Chris is playing a dangerous game with forces beyond her control in a bid to see her son, Trey, alive once again. (From Goodreads)

Assessment: In Crossroads, multiple characters have a sort of wounded opening in them. But it's not an empty void--it's filled with agonizing grief. Its grief for the death of a loved one and all the memories of them that paradoxically inspire both joy and mournful wistfulness. Sometimes its mourning what someone never had--it's grief of the realization that their fantasies will never come to be. Family forms connectors that when cut by death leave scars, but so can never having any connectors from the beginning.

Crossroads moves at a pace that favors character development over gory shocks. It mainly finds horror through Chris' interiority. The growing relationship between her and her neighbor Dan is a sweetness amid an ocean of tart. Her love for Trey is palpable. I found her blind devotion to undo her hurt both rational from her tortured perspective yet unwise from an objective reader's point of view. I wanted her to stop going down a road that intensified in horror and pain yet I still understood why she powered through.

When the gore does come, it's with purpose--every drop of blood is employed to support the themes and characterization. And every description of visually harrowing scenes is done with a skillful balance of sophistication and jarring unease. Sage observations are also offered aplenty. It's a horror story that feels suitably horrific, while edifying the reader along the way, making the grimy feeling that comes with it strangely rewarding.

The great characterization, observations, and thematic exploration are done in a way that offers new perspectives of grief. For those that have experienced the death of a loved one, the novella's themes should strike a chord if you're willing to go into the depths with it. For those without a close familial connection, Crossroad's exploration of love, loss, and isolation might be meaningful and relatable enough to ring true for them. It shows that a familial connection can be formed despite your current predicament. Sometimes you might have to leave the one you have and make a new one in which you'll find both love and heartbreak. Crossroads offers many instances of pain, but through it all you can at least feel the overpowering affection that literally bleeds out.

Score: 8/10

POSTED BY: Sean Dowie - Screenwriter, editor, lover of all books that make him nod his head and say, "Neat!”