Knock Knock, a novel by S. P. Miskowski, follows a trio of girls, from the town of Skillute in western Washington state. We’re introduced to Marietta, Ethel and Beverley at age eleven, follow their lives as they grow up to womanhood, see their connections to each other evolve and shift as the events of life and adulthood affect them individually and together. The girls hear horrible rumors of what happens to women who become pregnant, and resolve that this will never happen to them.
Marietta lives with her aunt Delphine, who is something like the town mystic, herbalist and fortune-teller, and has an idea of a spell the girls might perform in order to ensure they’re never burdened with motherhood. They find a remote, seemingly spot in the woods to perform the ritual, despite Skillute area legend that “Miss Knocks” lives in the forest and will chase children and possibly snatch them away. The discovery of strange bones half-buried in the wild, combined with the tales of Miss Knocks, leaves the girls more frightened of the woods and their own weird, occult-like ritual, than of the fear of eventual pregnancy which drove them out there in the first place.
All three girls remember that day. The memories have a different effect on each, with the passing of time. Miskowski examines the way fear of legends affects the living, not only in terms of the actual manifest “powers” of the force of legend, but also by the way our fear shifts us, opens us up to risks, and closes off possibilities.
We revisit the trio as they age, learn more about their family backgrounds, and see how they fit into their community. The familiarity of the settings and seeming normalcy of the characters heighten the effect of disquiet and strangeness when horrific elements intrude. Miskowski’s strength is in the naturalistic depiction of characters and real-life events and settings, which is not to say she lacks skill in depicting the horrific or supernatural elements. It’s that vibrantly lifelike sense of observing real human beings as their lives pass from the normal to the strange that heightens the effect of fear and unease when it occurs.
Knock Knock creeps up on the reader slowly, without flashy effects or a fast pace. I was won over by Miskowski’s believable characters, and the realistic depiction of a supernatural intrusion into small town life. Miskowski has announced a forthcoming series of novellas based on this place and set of characters, the first of which is Delphine Dodd. The darkly effective creepiness Knock Knock is enough to make me want to see what more she does with the Skillute milieu. Recommended, especially for readers who favor suspenseful, slow-building psychological horror.