In the declining rust belt town of Shudder-to-Think, Pennsylvania, two teenagers awake in a movie theater with no memory of the last several hours. As they investigate the mystery behind their sudden amnesia, they encounter a number strange and unsettling creatures, from rabbits with human eyes, a blood-soaked deer-woman, and snarling, skinless men attacking those who get lost in the woods. The true horror, however, lies in the secret kept by generations of townsfolk in Shudder-to-Think…
The Low, Low Woods is critically acclaimed author Carmen Maria Machado’s first (but hopefully not last!) foray into graphic novels. As with many graphic novels, the story itself is minimally descriptive, relying primarily on dialogue and artwork to relay the narrative. Despite these script limitations, Machado manages to masterfully blend genres and tropes to create a coming-of-age, horror, and magical realist story all at once. The Low, Low Woods is at its surface a story about two teenagers investigating a personal mystery in their strange hometown, but—without delving too far into spoiler territory—it is also a multilayered story about memory, sexual violence, and how we survive and move on from trauma. (Also, the two protagonists are both queer girls of color, which I always appreciate.)
Dani (lineart) uses heavy brush strokes and negative space to create a disquieting, almost impressionistic setting, which does a wonderful job of supplementing the magical realist aspects of the story. The hazy artwork is such that the reader isn’t quite caught off guard when a cozy page about the two protagonists bickering about college applications is followed up by a disturbing full-page panel of a woman transforming into a sinkhole. Of course, Tamra Bonvillain also deserves praise for her coloring, which beautifully emphasizes the dreamlike qualities of Dani’s art style and Machado’s writing.
Overall, The Low, Low Woods represents everything I like about the graphic novel medium, perfectly blending phenomenal writing with gorgeous art in order to create an utterly unique literary experience. If you liked Machado’s other works (such as Her Body and Other Parts or In the Dream House) or if you liked The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones, I highly recommend this book.