Julie Anne Parks
Design Image / 238 pages / November 1998
Countless writing how-to books drum one instruction into would-be authors’ brains: Start with a hook. Catch readers in the first page — or the first paragraph, if possible — or you won’t catch them at all. Someone was listening to that advice; I defy you to find a more irresistible hook than Storytellers‘s prologue. Depending upon your sex, of course, Parks has you by the naughty bits from the start. Even better, she maintains that grip until the final page.
True, the premise is not unique. Burnt-out author Braxton Defoe and his long-suffering Piper leave the glory and disgrace of L.A. behind to start over in a simpler, calmer setting. Before they even reach the mountains of North Carolina, Braxton has decided to hate it. Because… well… because he’s an a%#&ole. There’s no better word for it. And not just because he is so cruel to his wife, but just because he is him.
Of course, it doesn’t help matters that their first friends are a talented storyteller and his supportive (read “no life of her own”) wife. That is rubbing it in a bit, but he deserves it.
It doesn’t take very long for the situation to deteriorate from miserable to deadly. There will be a deluge of blood before it’s over, and plenty of violence (much of it domestic). Remember the father in The Shining? I’d rather spend the winter with him. On the bright side, there’s also some provocative sex. No. I wouldn’t say this is good YA material.Just expect things to get pretty rough before the epilogue.
Parks does a good job putting a lethal twist on some much-used plot devices and making the story uniquely hers. She has a sure hand with action sequences, exposition, and dialogue. One of the best aspects of Storytellers is the readers inability to judge reality from delusion. Anything seen from Braxton’s viewpoint is as likely to be… hallucination, let’s call it, as truth. It is a fascinating technique for keeping the reader off-balance and guessing. As is the suggestion of supernatural forces at work in the mountains.
That unsettling atmosphere may well be the snare that keeps you rapidly tearing through Storytellers. This was another one that kept me reading until a positively indecent hour and gifted me some gorgeous bloodshot eyes the next day. Really, you’ll stay locked on just to see if Braxton gets what he so richly deserves.
Genuine horror and the beauty of the Carolina wilds. It’s an intoxicating blend. You may be a little wary of taking any long solo hikes in the near future, but you’ll enjoy the mental scenery along the way.
Let’s see…Did I mention this is Parks’ first novel? That’s starting out with a bang.