Kate’s Review: “Lone Women”

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Book: “Lone Women” by Victor LaValle

Publishing Info: One World, March 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Blue skies, empty land—and enough room to hide away a horrifying secret. Or is there? Discover a haunting new vision of the American West from the award-winning author of The Changeling.

Adelaide Henry carries an enormous steamer trunk with her wherever she goes. It’s locked at all times. Because when the trunk is opened, people around her start to disappear

The year is 1914, and Adelaide is in trouble. Her secret sin killed her parents, and forced her to flee her hometown of Redondo, California, in a hellfire rush, ready to make her way to Montana as a homesteader. Dragging the trunk with her at every stop, she will be one of the “lone women” taking advantage of the government’s offer of free land for those who can cultivate it—except that Adelaide isn’t alone. And the secret she’s tried so desperately to lock away might be the only thing keeping her alive.

Told in Victor LaValle’s signature style, blending historical fiction, shimmering prose, and inventive horror, Lone Women is the gripping story of a woman desperate to bury her past—and a portrait of early twentieth-century America like you’ve never seen.

Review: Thank you to One World for sending me a link to an eARC of this novel on NetGalley!

Rejoice, horror fans, for we are once again blessed with a stunning new horror story by Victor LaValle. It has been awhile since I’ve dived into a LaValle book, and I was very, very stoked when “Lone Women” ended up in my inbox. And I was even MORE thrilled when Book of the Month had it as a choice for March, because I DO LOVE A PRINT COPY OF A GREAT HORROR NOVEL! I had high expectations for this novel, following a Black woman named Adelaide who decides to try and homestead in Montana in the early 20th Century, and who has a mysterious steamer trunk she just needs to keep an eye on and keep closed. Because that premise alone is VERY enticing, and when you throw in LaValle, you know it’s going to be even moreso. This man knows how to craft a well done horror tale with lots of subversions, after all.

I can’t really talk too much about the horror aspects of this novel, as I really don’t want to spoil too much because I do think that part of the appeal is the slow reveal and the surprises that come with it. What I will say is that LaValle has once again taken something that we’ve seen before, but turned it on its head and made it feel fresh, unique, and tragic on top of the scary. Adelaide is running from a violent moment that has changed the course of her life, and she is bringing with her the literal baggage that comes with that violent moment, and we have no clue as to what it is. But what we do know is that she is desperate to keep that baggage contained, whether it is the actual bag that she has brought with her, or the trauma that has been inflicted upon her and her family due to the circumstances that fell upon them all. I loved the slow tension of the trunk with the lock, and I also loved the slow burn horror elements that were more steeped in realism. I was just as nervous of Adelaide when she was surrounded by suspicious people whose motives we had no clue about as I was worried about just what it was that she was lugging around in the trunk. And I REALLY loved what exactly it was what was in said trunk, as it reminded me of a specific story that I had enjoyed at one point, but have turned my back on as of late due to questions of ethical consumption of it. And that’s all I will say.

And I won’t tell so as not to ruin it. (source)

But it is also the very gritty and realistically bleak historical fiction aspects of this book that jump off the page. LaValle weaves together a tapestry of not only the American imperialist ideals of Manifest Destiny, but also the way that the American Government would use this to its own advantage, and how it could appeal to a group of Othered women. Whether it is Adelaide due to her race as well as her horrific burden, or neighbor Grace and her son Sam who are functioning as a single mother and child trying to make it together, or Miss Bertie and Fiona Wong who are not only women of color but also two lesbians who have to hide who they are, the idea of being ‘lone women’ and trying to make a life in isolation, as well as while carrying various secrets that may keep them emotionally isolated, was profound as hell. The grim realities of trying to make it in an unfamiliar place with harsh winters, the danger of being a woman alone with strangers passing through, the way that the haves will try and take advantage of the have nots, all of it feels very real and unromantic takes on the idea of the West. This book absolutely feels like a Western, but it doesn’t make it seem like a charming simpler time you may find in a John Wayne movie. It highlights the misogyny, colonialism, and racism of that ideal. And I loved that.

“Lone Women” is another fantastic novel by Victor LaValle that takes on horror themes and tweaks them to feel more resonant and poignant than one may expect. I always love LaValle’s horror works, and this one is, I think, my favorite of the lot.

Rating 9: Breathtaking horror and gritty historical fiction rolled into one, “Lone Women” shows the tenacity of outsider women with secrets, some of which are otherworldly.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Lone Women” is included on the Goodreads lists “The Best Historical Horror Novels”, and “Horror to Look Forward To in 2023”.

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