Saturday, October 1, 2011


by Melissa Marr
Published by William Morrow-Pinnacle Press

What is it that makes a novel “gothic”? We all know that it sure as hell isn’t pouty teenage girls fainting in the embrace of sparkly vampires, but negative proof is never much help. Is it old, crumbling manses or castles sinking into the unbearable stench of a cursed moor? Ghosts that haunt the periphery of the damned? Some alchemy made from cobwebs and wrought iron posts? Or, is it old secrets, buried deep but still boiling to the surface? The inescapable past sneaking up on the unknowing present?

If, like me, those last two are what really make the genre for you, then you’re in for a dilly of a tale with Melissa Marr’s Graveminder.

Rebekkah Barrow left Claysville a decade ago and did her best to never look back, despite the deep connection to her step-grandmother Maylene and long running ignored relationship with the town’s Undertaker in training. As with all best laid plans of meece and menses, this all goes to hell when Maylene is murdered. Someone or something tore her apart and finding out who only begins the mystery that forces Rebekkah back into the town she never truly called home and the arms of the man she never admitted into her heart, ByronMontgomery. It seems that the town elders had made a pack in the long ago that binds everyone within its borders and more than just ghosts are worming their way out of the ground.

Graveminder takes an interesting approach to the traditional gothic ghost story in that it is the town itself that is haunted, instead of a specific person or house. Not so much haunted by ghosts (though the dead do walk within these town limits) as by the remnants of decisions made long ago. That aspect is what makes it a uniquely American, distinctly post-millennial Gothic novel while maintaining the sense of history and age associated with the genre, this sense that even as we strive for personal freedom we are bound by the sins of our fathers. No matter how much we may strive and struggle against this hold of the past, we inevitably find ourselves unable to escape and must find some way to live with it. Melissa Marr beautifully captures this age old strain of freedom versus fate in both Rebekkah’s constant fight against it and Byron’s passive acceptance.

Of course, you could ignore that and lose yourself in the loamy, dusty ambiance (you’re soaking in it) while the hungry dead chew at your flesh.

On the down side, the ending seemed a tad rushed to me. The setup was far too rich and the emotions seemed too complicated to play out as quickly as they did. Also, the romance portion fell flat for me. I didn’t feel the connection between the two in any way beyond the superficial and still have a tough time buying it. These aren’t story killers by any means, but it could’ve played out a little stronger with more patience.

Regardless, Graveminder goes well beyond the standard penny dreadful and kept me up well into the dreary hours with Ms. Marr’s combination of originality, heart and whip quick pacing.

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Anton Cancre

Anton Cancre is one of those rotting, pus-filled thingies on the underside of humanity that your mother always warned you about. He has oozed symbolic word-farms onto the pages of Shroud, Sex and Murder and Horrorbound magazines as well as The Terror at Miskatonic Falls, an upcoming poetry anthology by Shroud Publishing and continues to vomit his oh-so-astute literary opinions, random thoughts and nonsense at No, he won't babysit you pet shoggoth this weekend. Stop asking.

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