Note to publicists: stop comparing new novels to our cult favorites! It is never going to work out in your favor. Never. That was the first big problem with Zoje Stage’s Wonderland– they said it was as if Shirley Jackson had written The Shining. That’s a pretty high fucking bar. And this book was not that. I can tell you some of the ways they might be similar, but they are not the ways that fans will clamor for.
First- like The Shining, this is a story of a family that becomes isolated in a remote, snow-bound place. And they start to go mad. That’s it. Similarities done.
Second- like Shirley Jackson, Stage tries to find something frightening in the mundane. In this case, weather. But unlike Jackson, it is never quite successful, and tension is never drawn.
So, this is the story of the Bennet family, who has moved from the bustle of NYC to the quiet of the Adirondak mountains. And they were not prepared. Horror ensues. The story really is that simple, but Stage tries to take us into the mind of the main character Orla to show how she is going mad. However, I had trouble believing that any of these characters behaved like real people. That was also one of the things that bothered me about Stage’s first book Baby Teeth- it really stretched the possibility of real human reactions. You know, I can suspend a little disbelief for fiction, but, come on. The excessive repetition doesn’t really help in this case. Other reviewers have noted how many times Orla mentions her children’s names- which are (really) Eleanor Queen and Tycho and how many times you will hear about her ballet career.
My primary beef with this book is how hard it tried to make snow frightening. Not scared of a snow dragon? No? How about snow rollers? No? Well how about 10 feet of snow? No? How about a glacier?
Ugh. None of it was scary. And almost all of it could be seen about a mile away.
Besides making me google a few interesting things, this book mostly entertained me by making me rant a little. It gets 2 stars. There were a few times I might have been a bit spooked, and I truly enjoyed the descriptions of the husband’s artwork, so there’s that.
Now, I am totally down for a ghost or a possession, or even a god, but maybe pick one. I have no idea what we really ended up with here. A girl who morphed into a tree who evolved into a god? I was left totally unsatisfied with the ending as well.