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Astoria by S.P. Miskowski


by S.P. Miskowski

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I was lucky enough to receive a free electronic preview copy of Astoria. I’d previously read Knock Knock and Delphine Dodd and had been highly impressed by both.

When I read Knock Knock, I’d initially planned on just reading a chapter and then putting it down. Several hours later I realized I’d lost track of time. That the book had absorbed me so thoroughly that I’d lost the afternoon. So I was prepared for this when I opened up Astoria on my Kindle. As in Knock Knock and Delphine Dodd, Miskowski’s quality of prose provides a powerful lure, creating a sense of immersion that makes effortless the loss of everyday troubles or tasks.

At the start of Astoria, Ethel is struggling to cope with raising her daughter. Her daughter is likely a sociopath. I don’t think that Ethel rationally believes that her daughter is the personification of evil resulting from a broken bargain with a supernatural being in Ethel’s youth, but she suspects in her heart that there is something wrong beyond the normal range of childhood problems. When the child dies, Ethel is therefore conflicted. She leaves her husband and the town she was raised in. She wanders southwest Washington, before crossing the Columbia to Astoria, all the while it seems like there’s something chasing her on the edge of reality.

Maybe it’s the Northwest settings in these books, but thinking about describing this time loss got me thinking about something a character in Twin Peaks said, something about “I know I should be sad, and I am, part of me is. But it's like... it's like I'm having the most beautiful dream... and the most terrible nightmare, all at once.” And that’s how I felt reading this novella about a woman who has just lost a child, but has every reason to feel like she’s been given a chance at freedom. It’s very dreamlike. Reading Astoria felt a lot like closing my eyes and experiencing the most strangely pleasing nightmare.

I’ve been struggling to put my finger on how Miskowski accomplishes this sense of enjoyable horror. It’s not like there’s over the top supernatural dark fantasy action in these stories. In Astoria so much of the action seems fairly mundane. But there’s this fringe of terror coming at it from the edges. The protagonist is exhausted. She’s seeing things that aren’t really there, or is she? There’s that question of whether she’s hallucinating or whether her past has caught up with her. And throughout the book it feels like she’s surrounded by that past. Are the things she’s seeing supernatural repercussions? Her friend Marietta, who is as close to an expert as she’s likely to find, thinks so. But Marietta doesn’t have a large role in Astoria. She’s like the sense of the supernatural in this story, connected but sort of tangentially. When Marietta contacts Ethel there’s that sense that “no you haven’t escaped”. By building up Ethel’s story of trying to start her new life in Astoria, it makes the incursions of the supernatural and her past all the more frightening.

As I said I did read Delphine Dodd and Knock Knock beforehand, but I think while these added to my enjoyment of Astoria, I’m pretty certain Astoria would stand alone well on its own. Though I’m certain that if someone picked this up first, they would be compelled by the strength of writing and the joy of the story to go back and read the others. ( )
  Ian.Welke | May 27, 2014 |
In this story, Ethel flees her home after a tragedy that she cannot deal with. She ends up in a town called Astoria and tries to start anew there. I have not read anything else in the author’s series about Skillute, but I am not sure not reading the rest of the series is such a bad idea. It probably would have helped me understand this story more. As it is, I found this story lacking in good storyline, the character difficult if not impossible to relate to and the minor mention of the other characters (all from the other book, I figured) too short to give the story any real meaning. In fact, the mention of them really only left me wanting to know who they were and how they figured. The author also alluded to things related to them without explanation, which did not help me understand or like the story. There was little or no backfill. I found Ethel a despicable character, who really did not deserve to be a mother, though other women also do not deserve this. Just what exactly her daughter was doing or was guilty of was never really made clear. Perhaps the other stories might have helped in in that regard. I just knew it was terrible and totally unforgiving. I also wondered why the parents did not get any help for the little girl or where social services were. In short, the story lacked a lot of reality, had a character and setting I neither could understand nor relate to. I do not recommend this to anyone who has not read the rest of the series. Frankly, unless you are into this dart stuff, you probably will come away dissatisfied as I did. I received this from Library Thing to read and review honestly. ( )
  KMT01 | Nov 10, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0615840493, Paperback)

A grief-ravaged mother seeks refuge in the port city she loved as a child. Has the entity that tormented Skillute stalked her all the way to this last hiding place?

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:37 -0400)

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