By Hunter Shea
I’d read one or two short stories by Shea in anthologies prior to Creature, but not enough to have any sort of grasp on his writing style. When Flame Tree Press had their summer sale last year, I picked up this title and Ghost Mine to give him a spin. What led me to finally read the book was the delivery of my ARC for Slash. Several people told me to read Creature first, so I pushed it up my TBR stack.
Here are the basics. Kate Woodson suffers from lupus and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, leaving her robbed of her youth. She has chronic pain, a weak heart, and frequent fevers. She doesn’t work, can hardly do anything active, and sleeps most of the time. Her husband, Andrew, sticks with a job he hates for the benefits, and watches his wife approach death time and again. This hit home with me for several reasons, the main point behind her condition; I have Ehlers Danlos as well, and it’s rare enough I have never seen it represented in book or film before. Reading the first chapter of Creature caught my interest immediately as a result. Granted, Kate has it worse than I do (there are several different levels of the disease), but I could connect with her pain and limits more than I have with any other character in a very long time. Her battle became special and personal for me, in reflection.
Now, I have yet to mention the monster aspect to this, so let’s move forward. Andrew takes Kate to a lake cottage in Maine for the summer – following her new tri-monthly treatment – in hopes they could both get a break from their trying life back home. However, Kate is doing poorly still, and is unable to really exit the house. Andrew goes on his runs, makes small talk to the old couple down the lake when they canoe each morning, and drives into town for basic groceries and drinks. Not much happens, except there is something in the woods making noises and leaving violent surprises for them. The last fifty to seventy pages involve the beast and its reign of terror, whereas the first two hundred pages cover Kate and her illness. Now, to some, that may sound like a long wait for the action. However, Shea does a great job in capturing the drama and emotion of it all. Maybe, it’s just because I could relate to Kate that I enjoyed this story so much. Or maybe, it’s because Shea is a fine writer that can make you give a shit. Or maybe, it’s both. Let’s say it’s both.
Creature was engrossing, sad, and horrific in all the right places. I have immediately moved into Slash next.