In Teen Horror Novel ‘Last Things,’ the Crossroads Reinvented
When Anders picks up a guitar, it’s otherworldly.
His nimble fingers strum lightning-fast. His adrenaline surges. The audience packed into the Crow’s Nest feels it, too, cheering and caroming off each other on the fast songs, reverently listening to the ballads.
Any aspiring musician would covet his talent.
But the 18-year-old’s skills come with a hefty price tag. And the woods have eyes.
With Last Things, Jacqueline West recasts Robert Johnson, the legendary blues musician who supposedly sold his soul to the devil, as a teen metal fan in northern Minnesota. She adds another layer with Thea, who’s always in the shadows, watching. We first meet Thea in the audience at one of Anders’ shows. She knows the whole setlist, and all the words. She hangs around afterwards in the parking lot as the band packs up. Then, she heads to the home near the edge of the woods where she lives with her aunt.
“I’ll pass Anders’s house first,” she thinks. “Take one more look. Make sure he’s inside. Watch his windows. Wait until he shuts off the lights. Maybe.
“Maybe I’ll wait even longer than that. Maybe I’ll watch all night.”
Annie Wilkes, is that you?
Is Thea a stalker? Or something even worse? It’s clear early on that she’s watching more than Anders on the average evening: “Dark things are everywhere. In the shadows. In every trembling needle on every pine tree. Darkness slithers from their bodies, from their too-long, crooked limbs. They’re right here.”
West keeps us guessing for nearly the entire book about Thea’s true motivations, switching narration between her and Anders. He’s interesting enough, especially when he’s struggling to channel the songs that keep pouring out of him fully formed.
But Thea fascinates, whether she’s running supernaturally fast through the forest or assessing Anders’ potential new girlfriend: “Frankie is kind. It’s too bad, really. Because Frankie Lynde has to go.” We learn that she is part of a long line of women with powers, like her Aunt Mae, who’s saved several people in town but is ostracized all the same. Does the town misunderstand Thea, or is she as much of a threat as what happened in the woods two years ago, just before Anders’ talent exploded?
West, author of the New York Times best-selling series The Books of Elsewhere, stewards her story with precision. Her taut, staccato prose jangles nerves right along with the plot. Like all the best horror yarns, there are jump scares, misdirection and a mysterious Other hunting its prey.
Last Things is more than an homage to a legendary tale. It’s an expert reinvention that stands wholly on its own. And yes, you’ll want to leave the lights on.
(Greenwillow Books, May 7, 2019)