The Northwoods Chronicles
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White Pines Junction is a town with a dark secret. Those who live in the northwoods know that their community has a foot in two worlds—one in reality and one not—and they live contentedly, for the most part, with a few murderous secrets.
To all appearances, White Pines Junction is a normal small town with a lively summer fishing and tourism industry. It has a weekly newspaper, a fancy resort on the lake, a diner, a tackle shop, some nice stores, a wax museum, and a decrepit, abandoned amusement park.
One evening, a young boy goes missing—disappears right out of the arms of his babysitter—and his parents deal with their grief right along with the other residents, who are all mired in their own curious doings. The mother's quest for emotional solutions to these regular disappearances and the local computer geek's determination to discover the physical answers to them come together in the only conclusion that could occur in such an uncanny place.
Critics have said:
"Engstrom, a skilled horror fiction stylist whose novels include the biographical Lizzie Borden (1991), here gives us a deliciously creepy collection of interrelated stories. White Pines Junction is a quaint, sparsely populated tourist town that, along with its many outdoors-oriented charms, harbors some very dark secrets.
"Aside from a little-publicized history of hometown thugs and serial killers, the town trades deaths with its garbage dump on a one-for-one citizen-rat basis and hosts a motel whose residents’ nighttime reveries become frighteningly true. Perhaps most disturbing of all, the town is tormented by an epidemic of mysteriously disappearing children. In one story, a preacher’s pregnant wife becomes increasingly psychotic until an unearthly force literally steals the child from her womb. In another, a harried wife finds the grisly means to dispose of her troublesome husband behind the soon-to-be-remodeled walls of her kitchen. Engstrom’s chilling scenarios will haunt readers’ dreams for days."
"Dark fantasy writer Engstrom (Black Leather) starts on familiar ground, but rapidly turns this 'novel in stories' into a genre-blending exploration of love, aging, grief and sacrifice. In Vargas County, children under 12 occasionally vanish, but the locals have long viewed this as a tithe taken by the town in exchange for the happiness of the other residents. This theme is explored directly in stories like 'House Odds,' in which real estate agent Julia has to decide if her grandchildren would be in greater danger in town or away with their drunken father. Other tales merely use the disappearances as a backdrop, such as 'Skytouch Fever,' in which aging Sadie Katherine is forced to choose between her steadfast beau and a rakish visitor, and the wittily ironic thriller 'One Quiet Evening in the Wax Museum.' Fast-paced, melancholy and beautiful, the overarching narrative binds a collection of good stories into a superb if unconventional novel."
"The Northwoods Chronicles conjured up in me the same excitement and wonder I felt when I read Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. I was taken far away...inside my own heart, my fears, my hopes. I set it down to tend to life; forgot where I put it; got anxious just like Recon John when the monkey jawbone went missing. I finished it, but it's not over: I've been gifted with a life in a strange new world, not without its shadows, and the glimmer of weird on the water. This one is a keeper, and I'm one of its kept. Brava, Elizabeth Engstrom."
—Nancy Holder, author of Son of the Shadows
"To read Elizabeth Engstrom is to be guided by the sure hand of an accomplished writer whose stories have the power to transfer readers to places both real and surreal. We believe in the unbelievable, marvel at worlds created between dream and reality, and reach for all that transcends the limits of our imagination."
—Gail Tsukiyama, author of The Street of a Thousand Blossoms
"From the ominous opening to the soaring conclusion, these braided stories – subtle and spooky and smart – will keep the reader spellbound.. The Northwoods is a scary place to live, but in Ms. Engstom’s hands, it’s a fabulous visit."
—Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club
"Were he still alive, Rod Serling would like Engstrom’s book. Presented separately, each of her narratives would make a great segment of the classic “Twilight Zone” television program so popular in the 1960s. Taken together — and given Serling’s absence among us — they give us another way to hold a book in our hands that gives our spines a tingle and makes us wonder if Serling is really so far away after all."
—Eugene Register Guard