Wild Spaces By SL Coney
Wild Spaces By SL Coney
A publisher must have serious faith in their product to compare it to Robert McCammon’s all-timemasterpiece Boy’s Life. Of course, this type of hype is not uncommon in the book world, and even if it is over the top there is no denying that SL Coney’s debut novella Wild Spaces possesses a rare type of beauty. The quiet narrative has the reader hanging on every word and desperately trying to read between the lines for some deeper meaning or insight. It was one of those rare books which was really terrific, but quite tricky to put the finger on exactly why.
Considering its 128-page brevity Wild Spaces is undoubtedly one of the most captivating releases of 2023 which was written in very simple language, almost as if we were reading a type of fable or fairy-tale. Interestingly, the few characters in the book are not named, with the third person narrative repeatedly referring to ‘the boy’ who dominates the story. However, the boy’s pet dog is named and animal lovers (or anybody else with a soul) will marvel as the close relationship between the pooch and the twelve-year-old. Even though in some days Wild Spaces was a coming-of-age story, there were virtually no other children for the boy to ‘come of age’ with, which made it even stranger and beguiling. There was one very brief reference to a girl at school, otherwise its entirety featured only four characters.
Various blurbs call this beautifully realised novella ‘Lovecraftian’ which is a term bounced around a lot these days. Upon reading Wild Spaces it is easy to see why, but on the other hand if Lovecraft means nothing to you, then being none the wiser does not lessen the story in the slightest. In actual fact it had me thinking about Franz Kafta’s Metamorphoses just as much as Lovecraft, as after all the deceptively simple story is about change and how the boy deals with it. I also considered whether this novella might appeal to YA audiences, but in reality I do not think enough happened (and that is not a criticism) to appeal to younger readers. However, for more reflective teens there is much to enjoy and discuss in these quietly observed pages as the feelings of the boy are bound to touch a nerve.
The story revolves around an eleven-year-old boy who lives a happy childhood exploring the remote coastal plains and wetlands of South Carolina alongside his parents and the dog he adopts at the start of the novella, Teach. This perfectly happy existence becomes unbalanced when one day the boy’s grandfather shows up with no warning, cracks begin to form as hidden secrets resurface that his parents refuse to answer questions on. The boy does not particularly like his grandfather (and Teach certainly doesn’t) and he hates the way in which his grandfather antagonises his parents. The longer his grandfather outstays his welcome and the greater the tension between the adults grows, with the boy beginning to feel himself change and his grandfather is some sort of weird catalyst.
To say much more about the plot would head into spoiler territory but Wild Spaces beautifully captures the feeling of a different kind of puberty with the boy struggling to understand the shift. But deep down realises his grandfather is at the bottom of it and the part the old man had in fracturing that tight family unit was core to the success of the novella. Sure the story lacked fireworks, but it did not need them, instead it was built around much subtler nuances, family relationships, secrets, and toxic relationships.
I do not know if there truly is such a thing as ‘Quiet Horror’ but if so then Wild Spaces is a fine addition to the sub-genre. It was hard to explain how unsettling the arrival of the grandfather, upsetting the daily interactions of the family had, but the confused viewpoint of the boy who was kept in the dark was pitch perfect. A perfect way of spending a couple of hours and SL Coney is clearly an author to watch.
Wild Spaces By SL Coney
A young boy’s life is upended after the arrival of his grandfather, who is hiding a terrifying secret in this sweltering southern gothic horror, perfect for fans of Cassandra Khaw and John Langan.
An eleven-year-old boy lives an idyllic childhood exploring the remote coastal plains and wetlands of South Carolina alongside his parents and his dog Teach. But when the boy’s eerie and estranged grandfather shows up one day with no warning, cracks begin to form as hidden secrets resurface that his parents refuse to explain.
The longer his grandfather outstays his welcome and the greater the tension between the adults grows, the more the boy feels something within him changing―physically―into something his grandfather welcomes and his mother fears. Something abyssal. Something monstrous.