I first came across the author S.P. Miskowski when I read her really rather excellent short story A.G.A. in an issue of Supernatural Tales. So I thought I'd try her novel Knock Knock, particularly as it seems to be doing rather well for itself, getting nominated for the Shirley Jackson award and everything.
Knock Knock uses a familiar horror novel device - that of setting a novel firmly in one small, American town and telling of an evil that affects multiple generations in that town. In this case the setting is Skillute, a backwater American logging town, and the novel begins in the Sixties and progresses to the modern day. Miskowski uses this setting to great advantage, both as a realistic backdrop and as a place where it seems quite natural tall tales and superstitions would spring up. The story tells of three female friends from Skillute, and how a childhood pandering to one of these local superstitions brings an old evil back... I mention they are all female purely because this seems to me a novel very much written from a female, feminist perspective - ideas about women, pregnancy, and children drive the plot, although that's not to say there aren't some sharply drawn male characters too. In this sense it's quite original, and it gives the book an structural and thematic coherence that underpins the disturbing and grotesque events brought about by the girls unintentionally awakening an evil spirit.
This is a slow-burn novel, with the significance of certain events at the start of the book not being entirely clear. In this way the tense, oppressive atmosphere builds - Miskowski is great at generating eerie imagery, particularly when describing the woods and forest around Skillute. When the scares come, she can do more with a single, stark line than most authors can in pages and pages of poorly written gore.
If I had one issue with this book, it was the nagging feeling that all of the character's actions didn't matter that much in the end - that the disturbing events of the book were preordained no matter what they did, and that they were just caught up in it all with no agency or control. (I think this is a perfectly legitimate way to approach a short story, but maybe for a novel some sense that the characters actions might affect the outcome is needed.) A minor gripe, but there we are. Knock Knock is certainly worth reading and certainly worth the acclaim it seems to be getting. Even better, I see that S.P. Miskowski is also to release a series of novellas set in the same town, with the first, Delphine Dodd, available now. As I mentioned, one of the great things about Knock Knock is it's setting, so I'll certainly be keen to see what other dark tales are being told there...