If you’re still reading after that terrible Robert Frost joke, thank you. The topic of this post is Tim Lebbon‘s novella White, which I discovered after buying the book pictured below…
White isn’t the only great story to be set in the snow, as several other titles spring immediately to mind—Ron Malfi’s Snow and Conrad Aiken‘s “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” to name just two (even though the absence of actual snow might be the most disturbing aspect of Aiken’s tale)—but it’s one that I remember every time I find myself driving on a country road during or after a snowfall. Which brings me to one of the primary reasons why Lebbon’s novella works so beautifully…
Isolation: Just about every horror story utilizes the concept in some way, whether it be a physical or an emotional isolation. Even Harlan Ellison‘s “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” utilized isolation and drew horror from the fact that a Kitty Genovese-type character could remain apart from her fellow man even while she was in their midst and very much in need of aid. Similarly, the ending of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre caused me to drum my feet so frantically because help was right there. Just a little farther! You’re almost—
But in Lebbon’s story, there are no cowardly onlookers, no bustling nearby traffic.
There’s only snow.
As far as the characters look, wherever they go, it’s just white. They’re in a house, sure, but that’s no more protection than a child’s drawn-up bed sheet. The trick, of course, is getting the reader to feel this isolation and mounting paranoia the way the characters do, and this is why it’s a darn good thing Lebbon is such a fine writer. We begin to glimpse the phantoms that the characters glimpse. We begin to doubt our own perception. And when things get hairy within the house, we experience real dread because there’s nowhere at all to go.
Because of what’s out there.
In searching for images to spruce up this post, I Googled “snow” and got a bunch of snowmobilers and skiers. Then I Googled “snowy field at night” and saw one picture that came close to doing Lebbon’s vision justice. But it didn’t quite do it.
Seek out this novella. Then read it and drink in the atmospheric shivers. And when things go from bad to unspeakable, thank your stars you’re where you are and not in that snowbound house.
Let me state two more facts:
1. As much as I love White—and I do love it—it isn’t even my favorite story in Fears Unnamed (Remember when Leisure used to have an awesome editor who helped them put out amazing books?). No, that honor goes to a tale called Naming of Parts, which I’ll write about at a later date. And that brings me to one final point…
2. The reason I loved Naming of Parts so much was the characterization and the relationships. And looking back at White, I realize that on top of the incredibly-described setting, the nameless malevolence lurking in the snow, and the palpable tension the story induces, my favorite part of White is Lebbon’s characterization. He doesn’t have a lot of time; novellas, especially ones with multiple characters, can’t spare ten or fifteen thousands words for backstory. But what he does give us rings true, and we feel as if we understand each of the characters, even if we don’t always like them.
That, my friends, is great writing.