Written by: Josh Black
Alan and Heather Hammerstun, after the emotional trauma of two miscarriages (and Heather’s two suicide attempts), are ready for a fresh start. An opportunity comes along at just the right time – Alan’s late uncle has left him with a house in a small North Carolina town, and the couple leave their New York home, hoping it will be a good place for healing. It is, as it turns out, though not in the way they’d considered. In the woods surrounding the house there’s a lake that seems to be a panacea. The effects of its mysterious properties are unpredictable however, and, in the typical fashion of these sorts of things, its gifts often come with a price.
Right from the start the town and its citizens have a distinct Stepford quality, but after Alan’s discovery of the lake, the story swiftly goes in a different direction. Malfi efficiently weaves the necessary expository bits and characterization into a quickly moving plot. The thrills are subtle but it’s still a page-turner, and the reader is left not knowing quite where it’s going until the end, which in hindsight feels almost inevitable.
Cradle Lake mines some pitch-dark places in a genre already well-known for its darkness. It explores marriage and especially pregnancy in its ups and downs (and here the downs are amplified to an extreme level), and the lengths to which a parent will instinctively go to protect their child. It sheds light on the paths we might wander when all hope is lost, and on the thin line between misery and madness.
As you might have guessed, this is not a happy book – It’s devastating. It’s one of those novels that will leave you feeling hollowed out, but the story is well told and its echos will stay with you after the final page is turned. All things considered, Cradle Lake is a great read for seekers of quiet, psychological horror. Recommended.