I remember exactly when my excitement for In A Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware started. I was sitting in my car, waiting the last few minutes before I had to go in to work, listening to NPR. I remember laughing because Donald Trump said he was going to run for president, and the radio journalists didn’t take it seriously either. Then Ruth Ware was on for an interview about her new book. She claimed that the house where a group gathers for a bachelorette party has huge glass walls. Ware had been influenced by the 1996 movie Scream, in which everything would be fine of only someone would close the damn blinds. Early in the novel, one guest points out that it feels like there is an audience in the woods and the folks at the party are a stage — which means they’re being watched.
Let me back up.
Simply put, In A Dark, Dark Wood is about Nora, who receives an e-invite to a bachelorette party in the woods in a glass house with no cell reception from a former high school friend named Clare whom she hasn’t seen in ten years. This puts almost all of our characters at 26-28 years old. Nora can’t figure out why Clare invited her, but we do learn quickly that Clare’s new best friend, Flo, who has organized the bachelorette weekend, is super unhinged.
Then Chekhov enters the novel. Well, not really. His rule does: if there is a gun on the mantle in the first scene, it must be fired by the last scene. It’s a classic writing rule. Haha, the owner of the house literally has a shot gun over the fireplace, so that was a big spoiler alert. Much is made of guns: how the shot gun is loaded with blanks to scare off rabbits, how Flo takes the group clay pigeon shooting as a fun activity, that time one guest points the gun at Nora for a laugh.
In A Dark, Dark Wood is split into two story lines, but not the way we’re often seeing with novels today — something present and something circa World War II. The story of the bachelorette party is in past tense, and interspersed are scenes with Nora in the hospital, written in present tense. The hospital scenes are few and far between at first, but when the story hits a climax, readers spend most of the time after in the hospital, a fact I found annoying. Nora couldn’t remember everything that had happened, so she goes on and on about her lack of memory and how bad that is.
Things slugged along here for me, but I found the rest of the novel enjoyable. Each character had unique traits, so I could tell them apart. There were some mysterious footprints outside in the snow and unanswered questions about Clare and Flo that give the book a creepy edge. I didn’t actually find much to support Ware’s claim that if only the party would close some blinds they’d be safe, because not much was made of the footprints, and there was no other evidence of someone “watching.” To be fair, if I hadn’t heard Ware’s interview, I never would have expected as much to happen — but I really wanted it to!
A good fun read that reiterates high school damages some people for life.