Books

{Book Review} SP Miskowski’s The Worst is Yet to Come

Last year, upon reviewing S.P. Miskowski’s excellent I Wish I Was Like You, I said that it gave credence to all those post-horror think-pieces we were seeing at the time. Post-horror being the tag assigned to horror movies that don’t belabor themselves over traditional scares, that are perfectly happy to set their story within a proverbial horror playground, and then populate it with fully formed characters. The key to this wave has nothing to do with prescripted scares or ghostly third parties showing up to carefully stir the boil of the plot. Instead, we watch the characters careen off each other. They think and grow, and the end result is something more meditative, more sophisticated than the average roller coaster ride. I Wish I Was Like You worked much in the same vein. There was a ghost, and there was murder, but the driving force of the plot was the character’s own interpersonal and career struggles.

Now, a year later, I’m happy to have another Miskowski book in my hands. The Worst Is Yet To Come brings back all the musings I had on post-horror (and if it actually means what I think it means, or, if it even exists at all). As a human, I can’t resist the urge to place everything I encounter into neat labelled boxes—but, if I were to ignore these urges for a moment and engage with the book directly, I’d cast aside whatever genre arguments may come and just say this: The Worst Is Yet To Come is an excellent return from one of our most sure-handed novelists.

The Worst is Yet to Come brings Miskowski back to Skillute, WA, a small town like many of the ones I’ve known as a Washingtonian. It’s a cliche to say that the setting is as much of a character as the humans, but in this case, it’s required mentioning. In the early pages of the book, Miskowski brings Skillute to life—detailing its people, its transplants, and its houses in gorgeous detail. Skillute feels alive, like any small town on the I5 corridor, somewhere between Portland and Seattle. These details, often come in contrast to where our characters were originally from, and serve to highlight the town’s conservative, navel-gazing atmosphere. The theme of urban versus rural, Democrat versus Republican,  rich versus poor, is an omnipresent conflict in Skillute—one that Miskowski handles skillfully, painting all of her characters as irreconcilably flawed, no matter which side of the line they’re on.

The story here largely centers on two teenage girls, Briar and Tasha, cut from Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes cloth. Briar is dark, wild, and fearless—complete with a neck tattoo at the ripe age of fourteen. She comes from a broken home with a crazy mother; she lives in a trailer. Tasha is everything Briar wishes she had. Two doting, attentive parents. A large, nice house. Urbane interests. These two, of course, become close friends, each possessing something the other wants. Then: a display of violence brings them closer.

To say more would be to spoil the book, as this is a story built on a foundation of twists and turns, many of which had me nodding my head in appreciation. Miskowski knows how to deftly play with audience expectations, subverting them skillfully for a handful of shocking twists. These turns in the story continue to re-align the exposition we thought we knew. It is my earnest belief that the most effective plotting in a horror story will form it into a mystery—but the hardest part of writing a good mystery in this sense is having powerful enough reveals. Great horror, to me, hinges on the answer to the question you don’t want to hear. Miskowski’s plotting is a great accomplishment in this respect, as it moves at incredible speed (this book is truly a page-turner, reminding me a little of a lean, punchy King novel), while hitting hard with its genre elements.

Post-horror, or whatever you want to call it (I think just plain horror is fine, personally, but we are dealing with a wider palette here), has an almost incidental interest in the supernatural. In The Worst Is Yet To Come, there are indeed ghosts, there is indeed a Bad Place—but they arguably serve as texture to the setting rather than driving forces. These forces do interact with the plot, but as the story is told in two timelines, there is plenty of horror that precedes them as well. There’s a melancholy to the supernatural in the book, and in a novel turn, the ghosts we first see almost act as a Greek chorus for the audience’s benefit—commenting invisibly on our protagonists. Perhaps its these kinds of subversions of expectations that throw so many horror fans for a loop—its in defiance of the idea that the weird is out to get us. In Miskowski’s world, and others, we’re more than capable of doing the job ourselves.

The Worst Is Yet To Come is a joy to read. It’s the sort of book that flashes by in a flurry of pages, complete with hanging jaws and appreciative smiles. It disrupts genre tropes at one end, then leans into them in the other. The characters are real and breathing, and perhaps most importantly: indicative of right now. Miskowski has written a horror story as much about Trump’s America as it is being a teenager in a small town. These influences are subtle, but they shape the world in such fundamental ways, I was left believing that this was a novel that could only be written in the present. Satisfying as both contemporary commentary, genre thrills, and a character piece—The Worst Is Yet To Come solidifies Miskowski’s talents as one of horror’s best novelists.

The Worst is Yet To Come is available in trade paperback and eBook formats- just click our affiliate link to the right and head on over to Amazon to pick up your copy or order it direct from JournalStone Publishing.   Looking for more horror novels that will make you think?  The best way to keep up to date with all of our news, reviews, and analysis here at Signal Horizon is to follow us TwitterFacebook, or subscribe to our newsletter below.

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