My first experience of this author, and listening to a book rather than physically reading it. That, I’m sure, impacted on my ability to settle into the story as it is such an unfamiliar way of reading for me.
When I started this I really didn’t know what to expect. I, like many, have heard the rest of the phrase this title is taken from, and the pre-release info makes it clear this is not a book for the faint-hearted. I have little experience of the background of the characters this book focused on, so I was definitely nervous about missing something or doing the author a disservice through my own ignorance.
The book opens with a frankly unsettling scene, resulting in the death of an Indian man outside a bar. There’s mention of elk, and I really did have to go back and listen to the start again as I thought I had misheard something! We then switch our focus to another character, Lewis, who we learn was part of a close-knit group of four young men who did something so awful that even after leaving his reservation he lives with the guilt. We learn this event took place ten years previously, and it’s something to do with the strange and unsettling experiences of him imagining he now sees an elk-headed woman in his front room.
Initially I have to say I found the narrative of this quite hard to follow. We jump from event to event and there’s a muddling of time-frames that left me quite confused and even wondering if I could get through this. I don’t honestly know if this would have been any different reading…and looking at other’s responses to this, perhaps not.
If you’ve decided to pick this up and read it then you’re likely to have done a little research. We know the story focuses on the awful events that took place ten years before our book opens – where Lewis and his three friends venture onto a section of the reservation that is only meant to be accessed by elders and butcher a number of elk. They are punished, and alongside their feelings of guilt they have to contend with the expectations of others because of who they are. Now, ten years on, something has returned to get revenge.
The book was dark. We had graphic descriptions of dogs being mutilated, elk being shot and people being killed. As the book progressed and there was talk of the elk-head woman I wasn’t sure if this was going into supernatural territory or whether some kind of breakdown was being described. During the narrative we switched viewpoints from Lewis to the elk as well as the daughter of one of the men involved in the original event.
Once we were back on the reservation and following Cassidy and Gabe, I was surprised at how funny parts of this book were. Thought I’m no basketball fan, I was completely gripped by the character of Gabe’s daughter who really made this into something more than I was expecting. The final scene, though definitely not one I want to dwell on, was also more uplifting than I was expecting.
Thanks to the publishers, Saga Press, and NetGalley for granting me access to this prior to publication.