We’ve all read haunted house stories before and we’ve all enjoyed a good ol’ fashioned “crazy person” book at one point or another. But what happens when both tropes are mixed together seamlessly and given a breath of fresh air?
The age-old question of whether the main character is dealing with a paranormal experience or insanity gets a refreshing face lift in April A. Taylor’s latest work, The Haunting of Cabin Green. It’s an uncomfortable read, in the most wonderful way possible, as it forces the reader to assess the depths of grief a human can go through while also instilling such a deep, feral fear of the unknown that Shirley Jackson would be proud.
Ben just lost his beloved fiancée Kyra in heartbreaking fashion. To try to heal and piece his life back together, Ben travels to Cabin Green in northern Michigan (which is a real place, by the way). It doesn’t take long for things to get very surreal – unless it’s not surreal at all.
This book breathes with dread and emotional depth that can be hard to come by in a horror novel. Taylor weaves a story with a sincere personal touch, half terror and half heartache. Taylor laces her own personal experiences, fears and vulnerabilities to create a truly palpable Gothic horror piece.
The grief and depression Ben is trying to navigate through lays as thick as the fog that hugs Cabin Green. I found myself quite moved by the trauma Ben has endured after losing the love of his life and I was eager to find out how he was going to make it through the suffocating depression he was trying to live with. Things ramp up quite a bit once you realize that Ben has some personal demons that may be assisting with whatever he’s dealing with in Cabin Green, as well.
As a reader, I’m a huge fan of description and Taylor makes sure you can see, smell and taste every piece of this novel. The visuals I got from this book are some of the more stark imagery I’ve enjoyed while reading in quite some time. Think Anne Rice meets Ambrose Bierce. Like any self-respecting ghost story, of course there’s a surprise to the ending. For the sake of being a spoiler-free review, I can only suggest that you pick this one up for your Kindle or bookshelf as soon as possible. Taylor doesn’t pull any punches and she refuses to play it safe in her debut novel, something that the horror genre could use a lot more of.
Upon reading this novel, I had the good fortune of speaking with author April A. Taylor about the book that’s been stewing in her head for the better part of a decade.
MANGLED MATTERS: Grief is a natural part of life and a huge part of this book. Obviously, this aspect of the story comes from a very real and deep piece of you. Was it difficult to get that mood and (for lack of a better word) depth down on paper? It was emotionally taxing to read, so I can only imagine what it was like to write it.
APRIL A. TAYLOR: We all have darkness in us, and we’ve all had some type of grief. I’m fascinated by the dark and the light aspects of humanity and wanted to explore this more deeply throughout fiction. Therefore, instead of merely touching the darkness, I fully immersed myself in it and lived there for a while, especially during the first draft. At times it was really emotionally taxing to write, but it was also liberating in a lot of ways, too.
MM: What was it about the real Cabin Green that made you think it was the perfect setting for your ghost story?
AT: The real cabin is wonderful, but it’s also very dank and creepy, too. Much of the descriptiveness in the book that surrounds the look of the cabin, and the property around it, was true to life. I was sitting at the dining room table that Ben sits at in the book and had just finished putting a puzzle together when inspiration struck. Using the cabin as the setting just seemed like a natural fit at that time, and I’m glad I went that route.
MM: There are some really strong vibes from the masters of ghost storytelling in the book, but they aren’t blatant outright tips of the cap. Who are some of your favorite ghost story authors?
AT: I enjoy Shirley Jackson’s work a lot. Most of my favorites write about other aspects of the horror genre, though. I’m especially drawn to work by Clive Barker, Josh Malerman, and Joe Hill. My favorite horror story is Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I prefer psychological horror that uses symbolism – or outright language – to highlight social issues. I’ve been accused of being “too PC” by some people, but I choose to wear that as a badge of honor. My characters make social statements/critiques and come from all walks of life because that’s a reflection of the real world. Part of the description for The Haunting of Cabin Green is that it’s ‘socially conscious, inclusive horror,’ and I’m proud of that.
MM: The Haunting of Cabin Green isn’t a happy ending-sort of story but that doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable or shouldn’t be read by anyone looking for a modern twist on a classic horror sub genre. Did the ending come organically or was that where you wanted to land all along when writing the book?
AT: The ending changed after the 10-year gap, but I think it’s much better now. I was grieving while writing the first draft, which made it natural to look for a more optimistic ending. But when I read that ending again 10 years later, it felt dishonest to me. Life doesn’t always provide us with a happy ending, and I believe it’s important for fiction to reflect that.
MM: What inspired you to dust this one off after a decade in virtual storage?
AT: I came across a flash drive filled with old stories and started looking through them. Many made me cringe, but Cabin Green crawled back into my head and wouldn’t leave me alone until I did something with it. The beginning and ending changed, as did many of the details in the middle. But the core story of Ben’s psychological journey stayed the same, as did some of my favorite plot devices such as the puzzle.