The first time I had to put Douglas L. Wilson’s Affinity’s Window down because I was too scared was on page 51. If you think that sounds like it’s not very far into the novel, that’s because it isn’t. The sun was going down, the back of my neck had begun to prickle, and I was seriously considering the possibility that there was a little girl on a tricycle watching me. I closed my e-reader and turned on all the lights.
The second time I had to put Affinity’s Window down, for those keeping score at home, was on page 61.
Affinity Bell is seven years old and has just moved into her new house with her parents. Or has she? What are the terrifying red-eyed Others that haunt her? Does Mr Moppet have a strong enough magic to protect her? Has all this happened before? What’s for breakfast?
Affinity’s Window is a horror novel that raises questions. For me, it raised the question, “What is the best metaphor to use for how complicated it feels?” Branches on a tree? Russian nesting dolls? A jigsaw puzzle with the edge pieces taken away?
Suffice to say that Affinity’s Window feels complicated. Every reveal opens more paths than it closes. I started to have anxiety that the answers wouldn’t come. Affinity and I might be stuck here. Forever. Waiting.
Structurally, Affinity’s Window is simultaneously a straight line, a spiral, and a loop. Author Douglas L. Wilson assembled a series of dives with a very high difficulty, and he mostly carries it off. The answers do come. Not quite all of them—Why California and Virginia, instead of one or the other? What about the teeth?—but the important answers come.
Some of this is cleverness. Affinity’s Window can be very clever. And some of it is the admission, late in the novel, that the author is mortal.
I’ll explain. Affinity’s process of gradual discovery is the most finely calibrated and satisfying part of Affinity’s Window. The same observations, conversations, realizations are played out and they are subtly different each time, each trip around nudging her forward towards the truth. Author Douglas L. Wilson is doing his best work in the novel here.
And then suddenly, there is the pop of an exposition piñata, and now the reader knows everything. Affinity’s Window essentially addressed its audience and pointed out the exit. We’ve all had lots of fun wandering around in the gloom, but playtime is over so we’re walking, we’re walking, we’re walking. I understand it, I was relieved by it, but it’s kind of a shame.
The characters in Affinity’s Window are mostly posts to hang labels on. Envy. Hubris. Insanity. Cowardice. Lust. Grief. Obsession. It’s a long perfume counter of unhealthy relationships and personal faults. They are effective in their roles, which is probably the best they can do because they share the stage with… Affinity.
In Affinity’s Window, there is only one princess. Affinity rules in her house, and the rest of us don’t stand a chance.
Affinity is assembled from opposites. Clarity and delusion. Fragility and power. Youth and age. Author Douglas L. Wilson took the well-worn trope of the spooky little girl and gave her all the ruthless self-confidence of a king’s third son and all the obsessive precision of an insomniac watchmaker. Plus a haunted doll.
Affinity is a sweet and terrifying thing, so rational and so devoted and so quick to switch from childish purity to infernal corruption. If author Douglas L. Wilson were to tell me that Affinity created herself, I would A: believe it; B: never sleep again.
Author Douglas L. Wilson’s writing aspires to art, and he’s capable of turning a phrase. “The door to the basement acted as a guillotine, its blade hurtling down and slicing cleanly through the neck of her powers.” I love that sentence unconditionally.
But for every couple of those, there is a “like fingernails on a chalk board” or an “avoided it like the plague.” The use of cliche is one of the areas where a lack of editing is evident. Another is a tendency for characters to repeat themselves even when they’re not cycling through time. More than copy editing is needed, but not much more.
Affinity’s Window is a tale of two novels. One is finely calibrated and surprising and full of stylish flourishes, and the other is weakened by tangents and cliche. The good Affinity’s Window, the one I couldn’t read after sunset because it was too freaking scary, is the more powerful of the two, so head over to Bell Meadows for a visit. Bring waffles.
Guest review contributed by Fiorella Mauro. Writer. Editor. Sassy auntie. Your tell-you-the-truth friend. Official book reviewer at theromancereviews.com. Blogs at MonsterOfArts.com. You can follow her on Twitter @monsterofarts, which she knows looks like Monstero Farts and she is at peace with that.