Horror and Domestic Violence: Woman in White by Kristin Dearborn
I read an interview with Kristin Dearborn in which she mentions The Shining and The Thing as two of her inspirations, as well as talking about toxic relationships and domestic violence. Yep, hooked, there right now. Woman in White lived up to the expectations that name-dropping some of my favorite movies made and more. I read this in one night, because I really could not put it down. Both the snowy environment and characters are really well sketched out, and the story steadily builds with just enough mystery to tantalize. You can stop reading this review here, as spoilers are coming, but if you like horror, go read Woman in White.
Spoilers beyond this point!
There are two main plot points interwoven in this story: the disappearance of the town’s men and the climax of an abusive relationship. When the story begins, Dennis sees a scantily-clad woman out in the snowstorm and stops to help her. The next we see of him is a puddle of blood in his car. It felt like the literary equivalent to the opening scene of It Follows. I kept waiting to find out that Dennis was a bad guy, despite what his friends-with-benefits, Mary Beth, thought of him. And in many ways, that’s what makes this story so interesting. There are villains, but the monster stalking the town doesn’t care if the men it kills are good or bad. It’s like a virus, uncaring of the moral character of the men it’s reducing to blood, and we never learn why men, unless it’s meant to be simply that the alien monster finds them easier to tempt. Dennis doesn’t really matter, except for the fact that he was the first victim, and his death provides Mary Beth with motivation. She has to work through the violent, senseless death of someone close to her in a manner close to one provided over and over again where female love interests are fridged, although a key difference is that I wouldn’t necessarily consider Mary Beth the main character, as she isn’t present through the main part of the story. Instead, we switch over to Angela, a young waitress and one half of the abusive relationship I mentioned before.
A good portion of the story revolves around Angela and her attempts to get away from her abusive boyfriend. Angela is focusing on the months until she can escape to college, but in the meantime she has to keep ducking Nate, the aforementioned asshole, who tells everyone about the abortion Angela had. This is a small town, and soon Angela also has to deal with judgemental gossip and public shame, and that’s before Nate kidnaps her and locks her in their apartment. “People got abortions all the time,” she thinks at one point. Angela has hopes and dreams and no angst over making what she knows is the right decision for herself. This isn’t a book about abortion, but by including both it and domestic violence in a realistic way, it made the characters seem better grounded in reality than your average horror story cardboard cutouts.
At the end, we don’t ever really learn what the monster is or how it got here. We do get a righteous Mary Beth dealing the deathblow, and that’s just one more way this book transcends a lot of horror tropes—it’s never the overweight gamer geek who kills the monster, and it made me so happy to see her do it. She doesn’t lose her humanity either. Mary Beth is horrified by the men she’s killed and by the carnage in the final scene, but she doesn’t let it stop her. In the end, Mary Beth deals with her trauma the best way she knows how: by settling back into her games. Angela ends on a high note as well, moving even further than the state college she had hoped for, possibly with a new love interest, but with her boundaries firmly in place while she gives herself time to heal. And since this is a horror story, the last scene describes the escaped lure moving into Canada, looking for new victims.
I’d certainly read a sequel to this and will be checking out the author’s other work as well.