Our past affects us. Significant events, whether pleasant or devastating, can follow us throughout our lives. But what if a tragic event, experienced as a child, affected not only those who directly experienced it, but all of those who lived in the immediate area? What if those effects lasted for decades after the initial event occurred? This is the idea that Scott Thomas explores, both thoughtfully and frighteningly, in his new novel, Violet.
Kris Barlow is a veterinarian living in Colorado. When her husband is killed in a car accident, Kris decides to pack up her eight-year-old daughter Sadie, and drive to Pacington, Kansas. When Kris was ten years old, it was at the lake house in Pacington where she spent her mother’s final summer before the cancer claimed her. Kris has nothing but wonderful memories of that summer, and she is hoping that by returning to the lake house it will offer her and Sadie the refuge they need to grieve the loss, respectively, of their husband and father.
But Kris’ memories of Pacington, and more specifically the lake house, share little with the realities that greet her. The lake house she remembers so fondly is in a state of ruin and disrepair. So much so that it will require a real effort on Kris’ part to make it habitable. The decades that have passed since her last visit have not been kind to Pacington, which has gone from a thriving tourist destination to yet another small town struggling to survive. But, more than that, there is a sense of dread and sadness that seems to pervade every part of the small town. But Kris is certain that time in Pacington, and at the lake house, is exactly what will help her and Sadie recover from their losses, and she is about to find out just how wrong she is in that belief.
Kill Creek, Scott Thomas’ debut novel, published in 2017, was a classic haunted house story and a love letter to the horror genre and its authors. Violet, Thomas’ new novel, tells a story that is a bit difficult to pin down. Part of it is about tragedy and grief, how they affect us and how we choose or choose not to, deal with them. Part of it looks at parenthood and how the stakes can be raised for one parent when the other leaves, whether or not by their own choice. And part of it is a horror story, with a small town, filled with memorable residents and a sense of foreboding that settles over everything like a shroud.
Violet is a slow burn of a novel. It’s easy to think of Violet in terms of a backyard BBQ, where the briquettes will ignite with a flash, but then take a while to become hot enough to use to cook. In the same way, Thomas starts the novel with a brief introduction about Pacington and Lost Lake (the flash), but then settles into a story about a mother attempting to deal with the sudden and tragic loss of her husband while simultaneously attempting to assist her daughter in navigating the loss of her father. As Kris attempts to create a safe place for the two of them, relying heavily on her memories of how the area helped her when her own mother died, Thomas increases the heat/horror incrementally by small, almost imperceptible degrees. There are small inconsistencies, misremembered memories, events that are discovered to be potentially hazardous after the fact, and, over the decades that Kris has been away, a series of young girls, all just about Sadie’s age, who mysteriously went missing that finally result in a terrifying, white hot and inescapable conclusion.
Violet proves that Kill Creek was not a fluke and that Thomas is a wirter to watch, whether in horror or possibly any other genre.