Books: The Adirondack Witch by Patrick Reuman

I came across Patrick Reuman’s 2022 novel The Adirondack Witch during a random scroll through my Kindle Unlimited recommendations, and because I love stories about witches, I checked it out and jumped right in. While I enjoyed it overall, and it was fairly well-written with some creepy, lost-in-the-woods vibes, I had a couple issues with it that I’ll get into in a bit. To get into these issues, though, I’m going to have to spoil a couple of plot points, so if you’d like to read this book without knowing any of the twists, I’d suggest reading it first and then coming back here.

So our main character is a man named Hank. At the beginning of the story, he seems to be reminiscing about meeting his beautiful wife Mary, who was a co-worker he met when she accidentally replied to him alone instead of everyone on the group work email. The story doesn’t go too much into their courtship or anything like that; it’s just enough to sort of sketch in the details.

Not too long after, we learn that Mary has passed away recently, ostensibly from cancer, and Hank is absolutely distraught. He unceremoniously quits his job, starts drinking too much, and essentially starts wallowing in self-pity. His mother and sister are really worried about him and keep dropping by to nag him into getting his shit together, but he isn’t ready to move on yet. Thankfully, he has a couple of good buddies, Scott and Charlie, who seem to be fine with letting him recover at his own pace.

For whatever reason, he decides that he needs to take a hiking trip into the Adirondacks, to help him clear his head. Apparently, he and Mary had talked about taking such a trip while she was still alive, and he feels like he has to go in order to get some sense of closure. The setup here, as horror fans will no doubt note, resembles the premise of the excellent 2017 film The Ritual, which was based on the 2011 novel by Adam Nevill; and the similarities don’t really end there, although this novel does go off in different directions.

Hank’s mother begs him not to go on the trip, but he says he’ll be fine, because he’s not going alone; Scott and Charlie are going with him. For the first third of the book or so, we follow Hank, Scott, and Charlie as they get ready for the trip, purchasing a tent and all the supplies they’ll need. Hank researches the best mountain to climb, one that won’t be too strenuous for his first time out. Against his better judgment, he also becomes somewhat fascinated by online news reports about all the hikers who have died or disappeared in the Adirondacks.

Finally, the day of the hike arrives, and the trio start heading up the mountain. Even though Hank chose one of the easiest climbs, he’s a bit out of shape, and the hike is harder than he anticipated, especially carrying a large tent on his back. But he is cheered somewhat by meeting two other groups of people who are also climbing to the summit: there’s an older couple named George and Eve, and they’re accompanied by a young woman named Jennifer, who was the best friend of their deceased daughter. They’re doing the hike for basically the same reason as Hank is. Then there’s a younger couple, Jake and Jackie, who tell Hank that they live nearby and have done this climb hundreds of times. Jake is kind of an asshole, but everyone else seems nice, so the group decides they’ll all hike to the top of the mountain together.

They do this, and reach the summit later in the afternoon. The view is breathtaking, but because Hank and the older couple were inexperienced hikers, the climb took much longer than it should have, and the group decides to camp at the top of the mountain so they don’t have to climb all the way back down in the dark. Hank’s tent is big enough for everyone, so they all hit the hay, planning to hike back down first thing in the morning.

Problem is, when they wake up the next morning, it’s still dark; as in, the sun isn’t visible. Weirdly, the moon and stars aren’t visible either; it’s just a suffocating darkness all through the woods. Even more weirdly, they see some kind of village off in the distance that’s lit by torches, and there just isn’t any way that there was a village there before.

Freaked out, the group opts to wait for a bit to see if the day actually comes, but when it doesn’t, they figure they had better try to get off this mountain. So they begin the hike back down in the eerie blackness, but everything is different; the trail isn’t where it was on the way up, and there seems to be something in the woods, watching them, following them.

All along the way, Hank has strange dreams about a horrifying witch-like creature in the woods snatching up his companions, and also has flashes of memory about life with his wife Mary that implies everything wasn’t as rosy as the reader had been led to believe.

As I noted earlier, the novel has the distinct whiff of The Ritual about it, and is also obviously influenced by The Blair Witch Project; this latter film is even mentioned in one of Hank’s inner monologues, as he’s a big horror fan. People lost in the woods, with a possibly real or possibly not real witch stalking them in their tent; you get the idea.

But from very, very early on in the story, long before Hank goes on his hiking trip, you know something else is going on; this is where the spoilers I indicated earlier come into play. Unless you’re not reading the story very closely or have no knowledge of horror tropes at all, you will very quickly twig onto the fact that Hank’s friends, Scott and Charlie, are not real, and are just figments of his imagination. It’s telegraphed quite clearly by the fact that no one but Hank ever interacts with them, that they show up in his house without knocking, that they seem very one-dimensional. So as soon as you’ve figured that out, about ten percent of the way into the novel, you distrust everything that Hank perceives going forward, and can mostly guess what the twist at the end of the story is going to be. This didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the tale too much, and the story didn’t go exactly the way I predicted, but it might be disappointing for some readers that what was presumably supposed to be a big revelation at the end is plainly evident only a few pages into the book.

There were also a couple of smaller issues, like the fact that none of the characters are all that fleshed out, and also that three of the character names start with the letter J. For a short time, I sort of blended Jackie and Jennifer together, because their characters weren’t distinct enough to separate them in my mind.

There was also one sort of jarring bit to the story that took me out of it briefly. Though almost the entire book is told from Hank’s perspective, at one point, we jump inexplicably into George’s POV for one section. This never happens for any other character, and I’m not entirely sure why we had to see things from George’s perspective in particular for that brief time. The scene was short, and didn’t really interrupt the narrative, but it just struck me as odd, especially because we never see anything from anyone else’s POV except for Hank’s.

In sum, though, I did actually have a good time reading this book; it moved along quickly, and even though I guessed aspects of the unfolding mystery, I was still entertained going along for the ride. The imagery of the witch and the weird shit in the woods was cool and eerie, and there was just enough ambiguity to keep it interesting. I kinda wish Hank’s unreliable narrator status wasn’t so glaringly unsubtle from the beginning, but the story did manage to surprise me at a couple of points. If you liked The Ritual and The Blair Witch Project and don’t expect anything too outside the bounds of horror tropery, then it’s a pretty solid read.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.

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