From various places within the social media universe, people have said that Kelli Owen is the new voice of horror. Hell, I’ve said it myself. Well, she’s about to prove us all right. Her new novella is a haunting, creeping, slow-burner of a story that will stay etched in your memory for a long, long time. Welcome to The Neighborhood.
A missing girl. A found fingertip. A puddle of blood without a body. A small town neighborhood full of rumors and imagination through the eyes of its youth. The world is a combination of grass stains and dried mud – the badges of childhood, that often look like blood in the right light.
Where most folk would be happy to send you on your way with a few words that might leave you shivering in the dark, Kelli Owen strives to bring that feeling to you in the light of day. In your own backyard. Using your children and your own memories as a child as an agent of terror. Why? Because she has a powerful way of writing, and because she can.
This little creeper of a novella is shorter than most, but long and heavy on the scares. Now, someone picking this up may be looking for monsters and gore, but what they’ll find is something much more terrifying. An unsettling dread spreads from the words of this book, issuing forth a sort of dark aura that wraps around the reader, keeping them glued to the pages. There’s no kidding around here. From the first sentence to the last, this is one seriously dark story that just reeks of a foreboding nature.
Owen crafts characters so well that I found myself going up to the top of the page, back to the cover, and always making sure that I wasn’t reading a King of McCammon release. Readers will find a marked similarity in the feel of those two author’s works, but not at all in delivery or subject. Having said that, the author has her own distinct voice that fans will find has only become sharper and more practiced as time has passed. To say that Owen is still fresh blood in the horror genre would be a disservice to her work. She’s solidified her craft, and taken a stand as one of the names to watch.
The story itself seems very simple and straightforward but, upon further inspection, reveals itself to be a different kind of monster. One that feeds on the very memories of your pre-teen and adolescent life. We all have snippets of our lives that we remember as being “just a little off“, whether it be that one kid we grew up with, or that teacher that just didn’t make sense, and Owen capitalizes on that with this piece. The kids in this story, and the way they interact with each other is just too damned familiar. But it’s different. You see the point here? You know you’re reading a story, though you can’t help but let it sink into your own mental faculties and rearrange your own memories to suit the visuals that the author is offering up. It’s mind-blowing.
The Neighborhood is delivered in a very direct way, but without the lack of description one would assume with a statement like that. Owen has a way of taking a very short, simple sentence, and twisting it around to make it feel like it means several different things. When describing a bloodstain, she’s more apt to remark that it could be something else, leaving the reader to decide exactly what they want to see in their mind. The action is never forced, and the scares are as organic as they can possibly be.
This story, in particular, is a breath of fresh air, in that the monsters are never really revealed in a grand sweep of the hand. They’re systematically hinted at, teased out, and brought to the attention of the reader on a smooth breeze. The Neighborhood never really turns into a literary tornado of horror, but instead opts to go for the slow, chilling breeze that lets you know that something just ain’t right. Owen doesn’t seem to want to bash the reader repeatedly with visions designed to break the mind or damage the spirit, shocking them into submission. But what she does do with this novella is let the world know that she’s out there, and she’s gonna get you.
The Neighborhood feels like a taste of something yet to come. Something a little more than “off” that’s gonna blow the doors off this whole genre. And me? Hell… I’ll be sitting right here, on the porch, waiting for the storm.
Get yourself a copy of The Neighborhood when it is officially launched at the Horrorfind Weekend, and at the Thunderstorm Books website after that. You can contact Kelli via her website, Twitter, and at The Keenedom (registration required).