There’s nothing more frustrating as a reader than a good idea that fizzles. To see the potential of a work and understand the intent only to be left high and dry by narrative missteps is difficult and confounding. Unfortunately, for all the promise of Hunter Shea’s CREATURE, the payoff is too little to justify the journey.
Shea is generally a solid practitioner of monster fiction, and CREATURE is very nearly a solid monster story. The book follows Kate and Andrew Woodson, a couple pushed to the limit by Kate’s auto-immune disease. Hoping for a few months of respite from the pain and exhaustion caused by her condition, they plan a summer getaway at a lake house in Maine. The idyllic surroundings of their personal paradise are turned into Hell, however, as the couple is beset by an unspeakable monster lurking in the woods.
Parallels between Kate’s disease and the monster at the lake house are easy to draw, and their juxtaposition sets up interesting discussions about monsters the lurk both within and out of the body and mind. It’s there, for sure, but unfortunately the more meaningful subtext is buried within long, repetitive stretches that never seem to go anywhere of any particular interest. Kate sleeps; Andrew runs. Kate cycles through “bad feels” and “good feels” and all other manner of “feels”; Andrew worries and is passive aggressive. On and on, so forth and etc.
This cycle of nothing, well-intentioned though it might be, sullies the moments of real tension and fear that are definitely there. Though the book and its secrets are fairly predictable and the story eventually goes about where you expected it to go, Shea is always at his best when the monster is lurking and CREATURE, for all its faults, is no different. Its scenes of stalking are exquisitely done and appropriately creepy, all leading towards a surprisingly emotional climax that is effective even if you’d long since figured out where it was going.
At 277 pages, however, CREATURE still seems to overstay its welcome. With some filler removed, it could have been a taut little thriller. With some more work and characterization, it could have been an epic horror of pain and loss. Instead, it’s somewhere in between. Nothing ever quite fits within the vision of what it might have been and, by the end, it was hard to much care what kind of “feels” Kate was experiencing, so long as the slog was over.