A mothers grief is something even the devil should fear.
This is my first experience of Laurel Hightower and it will not be my last. Crossroads is a sensational, emotionally shredding, grief riddled nightmare of a book. The story is one that will affect you for long after reading (whether you are a parent or not) such is Hightower’s brilliance at capturing the clawing hands and the baying cries of grief, all wrapped in a suffocating blanket of loneliness, a loneliness that I can only imagine is all consuming at the passing of a child.
Two of the best books I’ve read that deal with the all consuming emotions of grief are Stephen King’s ‘Pet Sematary’ and Max Porter’s ‘Grief is the Thing With Feathers’ and I would now have to say that Laurel Hightower’s offering ‘Crossroads’ is now one that can sit next to these great authors and their stunning offerings.
Comparisons will of course be made to King’s ‘Pet Sematary’ (and so they should – Pet Sematary for me is one of King’s masterpieces, and this from Hightower is up there with his brilliance) mainly because of the subject matter and the full blown horror that is on offer. This horror, like King’s, is rendered perfectly by Hightower and it’s so emotionally charged that I would say it surpasses King’s offering, but that’s my own opinion.
But Crossroads is not a copy, this is something wholly original, totally unique and delivered with such mastery it is hard to look away (at times I wanted to, but was forced to read on), it was devastating and heart-rending, the hurt, the pain, the suffering is all inescapable and Hightower’s prose and hold on the story is beguiling whilst also terrifying and will have your turning those pages even when you don’t want to.
But this book doesn’t stop there, it could, because the horror is sensational, but it doesn’t. Hightower populates this nightmare vision of grief with a cast of haunted characters. Crossroads whilst being a grief filled tale is also a powerful character driven piece, with a damaged main protagonist and a whole host of secondary characters that are each fully rendered and believable, each character’s life and circumstance are added to the unfolding carnage of the situation that our main protagonist finds herself in; whilst also revealing how powerful grief is and how monstrous and unyielding its clutches are – reaching out like weeds and choking anything good from sprouting and strangling anything that has started to grow.
As this is a fast paced novella, I’m going to keep the review quite short and spoiler free.
Chris is a grieving mother, her son Trey died when he was 21 in a horrific car accident. Since that day Chris has been dealing with her grief, of how this incident has wrecked her, and left her stranded at the hands of this storm we call life. It’s not mentioned in much detail but Chris is on her own now, her ex-husband Beau has his own new family now (was this due to the stranglehold grief had on her or not, we’re not sure) and it appears that he is moving on, and in doing so he is leaving Chris to pick up the shattered pieces of her life, with no instructions on how the pieces go back together.
‘What was the difference, really, between physical pain caused by say, cancer, and the living hell Chris had been in since the day her son was killed.’
After accidentally cutting herself at her son’s memorial (near the place where they found his body), Chris is visited that night by a version of her son near the streetlamp outside her house, but something is not quite right. Trey is different than she remembers, he’s haunted by something, something darker than the grave. Chris starts to think that maybe this accidental blood offering brought her son back to her, and her mind begins to race at what she could offer to have him fully back, the way he once was – alive. But there will need to be a bigger sacrifice, but is she willing to pay it.
What then happens is a frantic and horrifying journey into the depths of a mothers love, a love that is as deep and wide as the biggest and deepest ocean. The grief of a mother is something even the devil should fear, such is the unrelenting pain and the determination to change this cruel act; all detailed brilliantly by Hightower.
Hightower writes with such power and honesty that at times it brought tears to my eyes. I’ve not suffered much grief in my life (which I’m hugely thankful for) but Hightower writes about this with such blinding clarity that one can’t help but be moved by her words. What makes this story even more heart-rending for me is that I have two girls that I fiercely defend and protect, they are my world, and where they are, I always want to be (something Hightower also covers in the book). If something ever happened to either of them, I’m not sure I’d be able to cope, what would I do? If the situation arose to be with them again, would I grab it with both hands, no matter the cost to me? Sure I would!
Hightower also writes this story to within an inch of its life, her prose is direct and striking and full of fabulously crafted and deftly executed horror. There are some witty pieces that made me laugh (it’s not all doom and gloom) one of which was this…
‘…but it was Beau on the other side, looking like ten pounds of shit in a five-pound bag.’
… but there are also moments where Hightower’s writing is on fire, chapter 19 was one such place for me. In this chapter Chris confronts her mother and the familial issues that have been plaguing their relationships since childhood (how she doesn’t want to repeat the sins of the mother on her own child) which have become unbearable since Trey’s death. This had me thinking of my own family (mother and father) it was such a believable sequence and one that was handled so deftly by Hightower that again it proves her ability as a masterful writer as she mixes sensitivity and poignancy along with terror and horror.
The story continues at breakneck speed and you can’t help but fall under Hightower’s enchanting spell she casts with this book. For me Crossroads will be up there at the STOKERS and it should be; a phenomenal book by an absolutely stunning writer. I’m looking forward to diving into more of Hightower’s work and already have Whispers In The Dark to be getting on with – if you’ve not discovered her yet, make sure you remedy that as soon as possible, you won’t regret it.
Crossroads is a grief riddled tale and a story that pulls at the heart strings. Horrific whilst also heartrending. A remarkable depiction of grief in all of its dirty shades. Crossroads is an honest and unflinching whilst also being an unforgettable journey into the full consuming darkness of loss. Horror has a new name and that is Laurel Hightower!
Crossroads is published by Off Limits Press and is available here.
Laurel Hightower grew up in Kentucky, attending college in California and Tennessee before returning home to horse country, where she lives with her husband, son, and two rescue animals. She works as a paralegal in a mid-size firm, wrangling litigators by day and writing at night. A bourbon and beer girl, she’s a fan of horror movies and true-life ghost stories. Her debut novel, Whispers in the Dark, was published in 2018.
Reviewed by Ross Jeffery
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