Wild Spaces

Reviewed by Gabe Stadler

Wild Spaces by S.L. Coney, NY, NY: TOR Publishing Group, 122 pages, $16.99

“His grandfather doesn’t seem to notice that this family, once cohesive, has become jagged and raw. The old man, he sprawls where he sits, a book in his hand. He never reads, though; he just holds it open—smiling—never turning the page. And the boy realizes, finally, what’s wrong with the grandfather’s smiles. When he’s smiling, no one else is.”

I’ve never felt a lot of emotions from reading a novel, but Wild Spaces was such a powerful read that I couldn’t help but feel the loneliness from how S.L. Cloney curated this novel into a masterpiece. This gothic horror is perfect for readers who love mysterious coming-of-age novels. It has many twists and turns that are very easy to keep up with but also catch people by surprise as they happen. Despite being a novella, the characters are well fleshed out, and it is easy for the reader to get attached to characters through each conversation that they have.

Wild Spaces tells the story of an eleven-year-old boy living a blissful and curious childhood on the coast of South Carolina. His family home is a short walk from the beach, and it inhabits a mysterious cave that the boy is weary of. He is the only child who is being raised by his mother and father. His mother is obsessed with pirates and writing. In the beginning of the story, she appears as the disciplinary figure in the family. The father is the average handyman who loves nature and the outdoors. He is very laid-back and is the boy’s biggest role model. The boy often goes to him for advice because he is almost a spitting image of his father’s personality… almost. The novel opens with the introduction of Teach, the boy’s dog. Teach is named after the famous pirate Edward Teach, also known as Blackbeard. He is the boy’s best friend and is also the only character in this novel referred to by his name. The dog is always by the boy’s side, and it is friendly towards everyone until the boy’s mysterious grandfather shows up. The dog sees something in the grandfather that nobody else can recognize. The grandfather is introduced supposedly as a former cook on a ship. The mother is not very thrilled to see the appearance of the grandfather in their lives, and the story reveals that he has never met the boy or father until he showed up that day. The longer the grandfather is involved in the boy’s life, the more normalcy in his life begins to dissipate, which is what makes this book such a captivating horror story.

Everything that Cloney includes in this novel has a reason and a purpose. Whether it be the subtle interactions between the grandfather and the family or the characters not having names, Teach being the only one referred to by his own name shows that even though he is just an animal, he is more human than some of the other characters. It also shows the disconnect that the boy has from other characters. There is a lot of foreshadowing in every detail in this novel; every storm and every gust of wind play a part in making the hidden things in the story unravel. The dialogue that the family has seems like common banter, and it helps the audience to fully immerse themselves in the story. The boy’s coming of age has the largest importance in the story because he constantly looks at those around him to see if he has any familiarity with them. He checks to see which of his parents he looks like the most, and his grandfather takes pride in thinking that the boy is very similar to him in a twisted way. This story leaves many readers like me craving more because of its fanatical ending. There are many unanswered questions, such as who the undescribed character Ian is and what was his relationship with the mom and the grandfather? Another question might be: why has the grandfather waited till now to make his appearance in the boy’s life?

Overall, I would recommend this story to anyone who loves foreshadowing and mystery. The grandfather is like a storm that comes into the boy’s life, and his life will forever be impacted because of it. I couldn’t put this book down once I picked it up, and the ending left me pondering for hours in hopes that there might be a sequel.