Book review by Zinta Aistars
Paperback: 194 pages
Publisher: Vagabondage Press, 2012
In reading as in life, it’s always a good idea to push one’s comfort zone, break routine from time to time, and try something new or different for the purpose of discovery. Reading within the horror genre is that for me, although I’m not sure I would classify Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s novel, Bad Apple, in that category. It certainly does send the occasional shiver of delightful creepiness up and down the spine, but it’s not the sort of story that gives one nightmares.
Bad Apple is the story of teenage Scree, growing up in a Maine apple orchard among an intriguingly dysfunctional and broken family. She is burdened with household chores that never seem to end, among them the raising of her brother’s baby, Beckitt. Fascinated with patterns, Scree allows dishes to pile up because she enjoys the patterns food and mold make on dirty dishes, and household debris accumulates as a kind of funky art form. Her obsessive behavior seems to indicate unhealed psychological wounds, and rightly so. Deep in Scree’s psyche is a childhood memory of pushing her mother down a well, and the memory surfaces in her life and her choices in surreal ways throughout the story.
Rather than allow the baby she grows to love to follow in her life path, Scree escapes the orchard to a colorful resort. It seems to hold within its walls all that Scree has dreamed for her own life, but facades begin to melt and tapestries of story lines unravel to increasingly reveal the odd, the freaky, the inexplicable, the haunting in her surroundings as well as Scree’s inner landscape. Reality becomes ever more meshed with dreamlike scenarios, and the baffled reader must hang on until the ending for a stunning revelation.
Schoonover is a writer who loves her art and is practiced at it. Bad Apple is not her first novel, and her dedication to excellence in the written word shines here. Descriptions are vivid and tense, reeling the reader into her character’s ever more twisted world:
“My fingers went numb, my toes stiff, my teeth chattered, and my breath came in white puffs: I was instantly freezing. I sat up, and for some reason, I was embarrassed as Adam and Eve in the Garden the second they’d discovered they were naked. I marathoned across the icy broken cabana cement to the door that—strangely—was stuck and took three yanks to open. The wallpaper glared, each stripe a crowbar threatening to bash in my skull. I ran up the stairs, down the hall, tripped over something—what, I didn’t know—and crumpled against a wall mural depicting gnarled, shadow-dark trees under an igniting sky. It made me miss the orchard.
“The orchard that was no longer my home. The mural’s tree limbs swayed and called to me, cursing me for leaving behind the bobbing Gingergolds, the incinerating summers, the raw spring, the moon-indigo winters, the November afternoons when the gray sun was an omniscient eye.” (pg. 150-151)
Kristi Petersen Schoonover is the author of the short story collection Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole—Tales from Haunted Disney, and her short fiction has appeared in Carpe Articulum Literary Review, Full of Crow, Eclectic Flash, The Adirondack Review, Barbaric Yawp, The Illuminata, Macabre Cadaver, Morpheus Tales, Citizen Culture, MudRock: Stories & Tales, New Witch Magazine, Spilt Milk, Toasted Cheese, and a host of others, including several anthologies. She hosts the paranormal fiction segment on The Ghostman & Demon Hunter Show broadcast and serves as an editor for Read Short Fiction. An interview with the author is featured in The Smoking Poet’s Summer 2014 Issue #26.