Ania Ahlborn’s The Devil Crept In is horrifyingly real and frightening enough to make readers avoid rural Oregon, or woods in general, for that matter.
I jest about the woods as I look at my own patch of dark trees in the yard at twilight and cannot help but worry what might be lurking in there; thanks, Ania.
The Devil Crept In centers around Stevie, one of the best protagonists you could ever have the pleasure to meet.
The following Book Review Of The Devil Crept In Contains **Spoilers** But Not Of The Ending
Stevie is a young boy of around eight or nine, who is likely on the spectrum, has no friends, but one – his cousin, Jude – because of speech difficulties and the missing the bulk of the fingers on his right hand a la Roland Deschain.
Despite his father’s abandoning Stevie, his mother, and his older brother, because of Stevie’s Mom refusing to treat the panic attacks and breakdowns, and despite the physically abusive step-father that is only present to pay the bills and torment his wife and youngest step-child, Stevie remains a good kid.
Sure, he goofs off, he disobeys his parent’s requests, and he goes off on unsanctioned adventures with Jude, but all that is normal kid stuff, and at his core he is very empathetic toward others and genuinely worries over animals and people alike.
The setting in Oregon, from the lush trails and old overgrown paths to the mossy-roof of what is seemingly an abandoned house on the edge of the forest is enveloping.
The characters, from the shop keeper trying to warn Stevie of the danger out in those woods, to Stevie’s horrible older brother – who makes him swear to not have seen the hand job his girlfriend was giving him at the movie theater – are too familiar.
They are too real.
The thought of Stevie’s step-father Terry, a real monster in human form, and the sound of his belt being unbuckled to whip Stevie makes me squirm.
This tale is based on a reality so solid you feel as though you could move there and lose your dog in no time as well.
Stevie worries over people being okay and seems to care for those around him with a golden ability that many young people possess, even if they hide it.
Stevie’s older cousin Jude, on the other hand, is two years Stevie’s senior, and is the small Oregon town of Deer Valley’s brash malcontent.
And for all of Jude’s harsh words, like making fun of Stevie’s speech impediment, he is the only one that has showed any desire to spend time with the boy who lost much of his right hand in a garbage disposal.
When Jude goes missing, Stevie’s world is decimated.
He feels utterly alone.
He seeks frantically to find out what has happened to his only friend, not knowing what his investigations into the long-abandoned trails in the wooded town might bring.
Around this time, he sees an animal-like creature around this time, that he describes as a yeti, for lack of any other comparable being.
But the adults in his life do not listen to him.
His are the ravings of a madman in a child’s body; a clearly disturbed boy.
Stevie learns of the missing pets in the town.
What kind of town has virtually no pets among them?
The kind of town, surrounded by woods, that is hungry.
The yeti, it turns out, was born out of a night terror rape with what may have been Satan.
A soon-to-be single mother sought refuge from a biker-run crash house, and an old Dead-head one percenter named Rasputin was too kind to grant her wishes.
One night under his care, and nine months later, the white hairy ape-like human is the result.
He is very real. He eats flesh from whatever he can chew. He is not quite human.
The lesson: listen to kids, not the town’s communal rumor mill.
The sad truth is that small towns often look away from the truth as easily as adults ignore what children say.
And children, like the truth, should be heeded.
Ania Ahlborn brings one of my new favorite protagonists, Stevie, and the reader through an agonizing range of emotions, from desperation and exasperation to fear and the internal debate over the compulsion to need to act violently to save one’s self and others.
My only critique is that I would have loved to see a little more of the bearded Rasputin, who appears a couple of times in the book, briefly.
But the imagination certainly spins, like a possessed head, with the thoughts of the possibilities that lurk in and around the character Rasputin.
In Ania Ahlborn’s The Devil Crept In, the reality is set before the reader, as if it is perched on a stone, and when it shakes or falls, the story jars us heavily.
The Forgotten Fiction Grade: YEA (read it!)
“Ania Ahlborn’s The Devil Crept In Is Horrifyingly Real” was written by R.J. Huneke