The Hollow Kind: A Novel
- By Andy Davidson
- 448 pp.
- Reviewed by Mariko Hewer
- December 1, 2022
This atmospheric tale about a doomed family is a spooky delight.
As a person who has spent a lot of time engaging with the horror genre both on television and in books, I thought I’d become inured to the peculiar, creeping dread that comes with the territory (in our house, we watched “Shutter Island” with the lights on and platefuls of spaghetti for comfort). Yet Andy Davidson’s lush The Hollow Kind, by turns starkly beautiful and starkly terrifying, brought goose bumps to my skin more than once.
The narrative weaves together three distinct time periods, each chapter informing the next. In the 1980s, Nellie Gardner and her son, Max, arrive at Redfern Hill, the dilapidated ancestral home she has inherited from her grandfather. Nellie is escaping her abusive husband, Wade, a nightmare she finally begins to process:
“The first sob hits her like a sledgehammer. The second she draws in, tries to hold like a breath, but it only explodes, and suddenly Nellie Gardner finds her tears, and she sits on the end of her grandfather’s bed and cries. She cries for Max. For herself. For the last dozen years, and the years before those. She cries like the rain pours down on a summer day.”
Soon, Nellie discovers her husband isn’t the only thing she has to fear: A local stalker who believes he has a claim to Redfern Hill rears his head, and a mysterious, threatening presence in the woods surrounding the property inches ever closer to the house — with Nellie and Max inside.
In 1917, August Redfern, Nellie’s grandfather, is just beginning his married life. His bride, Euphemia, is pregnant, and August is starting a turpentine operation funded by land from his father-in-law: “They walked among the pines that would be Euphemia’s dowry, and at long last Redfern’s own heart was snared and settled, here in this old dark wood.”
Although he can’t know it, August faces challenges similar to those his granddaughter will endure: A rival attempts to bully him off the land, and a dark thing in the forest rears its many heads, tempting August into illicit actions he believes will keep his family safe. When Euphemia and one of their children nearly die of the Spanish flu, August makes his first sacrifice to the monster that apparently lives in a sacred hollow, in the roots of trees that grasp and bite, and even in the animals that roam the property.
In 1975, we briefly visit a period in Nellie’s youth during which she runs away from home and her alcoholic father to Redfern Hill, where her grandfather is already in the process of surrendering to the land he has been chained to for decades. This interlude serves as a bridge between the past and present, between August’s story and Nellie’s — and as a way to convey the longevity and tenacity of the presence that haunts both their lives.
Despite his masterful writing, Davidson injects confusing elements here and there that seem unnecessary. When considering checking into a motel on their first night in town, for instance, Nellie isn’t “sure they can even afford that. Their cash is almost gone…No checkbook, not even temporaries. She has no credit cards. All of those are in Wade’s name and Wade’s wallet, back in South Carolina.”
But a day later, “after leaving the bank in Empire with a sheaf of temporary checks,” she and Max shop for the house, buying “two box springs and two mattresses…a vacuum cleaner and a Mr. Coffee…[a] TV, mower, and washer and dryer.” She also chooses a portable turntable “on a whim.” If Nellie is unable to access any money and is short of cash, how does she plan on paying for such big purchases?
Similarly, although the novel’s spectral woodland presence is appropriately menacing, it’s sometimes too vague — a panacea brought in wherever and whenever needed. It’s located in the woods, yes, but also in the house and in certain animals, leading the reader to question exactly what it is. Ambiguity can be a writer’s friend, but in this case, it’s employed a bit too liberally.
Nevertheless, The Hollow Kind is a riveting novel that will satisfy any horror fan (and many soon-to-be fans). Andy Davidson has done a sublime job with this portrait of a family plagued by supernatural terror and very human trauma.
Mariko Hewer is a freelance editor and writer. She is passionate about good books, good food, and good company. Find her occasional insights at @hapahaiku.