Petrified Women by Jeremy Ray (BOOK REVIEW) 4/5
Slight spoiler warning for this review.
I had a lot of hope for this novel when I picked it up, impressed by its gorgeous cover and the intriguing summary of its plot. I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed. It’s my first time reading Mr. Ray’s work, and I was understandably cautious- but I found his writing to flow easily, with concise prose and clear understanding of storytelling. I was pleased to find no flaws or mistakes, which as an editor, I was expecting, and I found myself sinking into the book with the comfort of a good read.
I enjoyed the pacing, the beats of the story hitting just right. The stage is very quickly set up: Harley, a girl with bad tastes in men who has had a traumatic past assault, has a running list of scary pranks by her current boyfriend, Aiden. So she decides to get him back with a prank of her own. The story goes forward by melding Harley setting up her prank, with glimpses of her past: of the pranks Aiden pulled, ranked by least to most scary. This, I thought, was skillful writing- making me immediately understand the context of their relationship, the uneasy line they toe between playful and inappropriate. Even Harley’s best friend, a therapist named Shelley, warns her that this relationship seems wrong somehow- that Aiden is not entirely good for her, that she’s changing for him. I related to the friendship between Harley and Shelley, and was sad- but not surprised- when Shelley later waves away Harley’s fears, tired of the pranks and choosing not to believe her.
It was all too real to watch this story unfold. I usually avoid stories with sexual assault themes- because it’s the one piece of horror that actually will make me uncomfortable enough to stop reading. It’s the one thing that will make my heart pulse all the way up in my ears, make my stomach churn as I mentally debate whether I want to read on and find out what happens. But the way it was handled here was flawless- and I couldn’t put the book down, reading it in one sitting. I found myself holding my breath, waiting to see where the wooden statues would come into play- because I knew they would. From a storytelling perspective, I thought that connecting Harley’s past frozen moments to the wooden statuettes was genius, lacing the story together perfectly. “Petrified Women”- the meaning hit me like a frying pan to the gut, clever and well done. There’s a lot of symbolism and deeper meaning packed into this horror story. I loved Aiden’s double side, but for me, the focus was entirely Harley. And that ending? Perfect.
Overall, I have nothing but good things to say about this novel. I do give it a 4/5 because it wasn’t, for me, one of my most outstanding reads of the year. But it is an excellent short horror read that I would recommend. I have read a handful of short horror novels this year, both horrible- like “Nothing But Blackened Teeth” by Cassandra Khaw, and outstanding- like “Arachnid” by Aditya Modak, and I can definitely say that like those, “Petrified Women” will stick in my head for some time.