Mattie and William live in a remote cabin on a mountain. It is clear early on that Mattie is afraid of her husband; she can easily read his “ice-chip” eyes and anticipate when he’s going to hit her. There are rules to their existence on the mountain and Mattie knows not to break them. It is also clear, early on, that something is not quite right in their marriage. Mattie is having flashes of another life and she is staring to contemplate escape.
William is not the only threat in Christina Henry’s novel Near the Bone. One day, while out checking the snares, Mattie finds a dead fox. A closer investigation reveals strange tracks – bear, maybe – in the snow, almost “like the bear was walking on its hind legs like a person.”
William and Mattie set out to find and kill the bear, but it is clear that whatever is out in the woods is not any normal predator. It’s also when they come across a hiker in the woods, the first person besides William that Mattie has seen for as long as she can remember. Even more disconcerting, the man indicates that Mattie looks familiar to him.
Near the Bone is a straightforward story of one woman’s desperate attempt to escape the monster she lives with and the monster that lives on the mountain. We don’t ever really get to know enough about either of them for the story to feel high-stakes. The book is marketed as horror, but it isn’t scary. At all. And it’s not really a thriller, either.
It tells you something when all the praise included on the book jacket and inside pages is for other books by the same author. This is a story where the faceless monster is more sympathetic than the human monster.