Skillute, Washington. A small, impoverished logging town, where the only forms of entertainment are bingo for the women, drinking for the men, and Sunday church services for weekly salvation. It's the kind of town you don't want to live in, because you'll never get out. Any resident of Skillute can tell you that having hopes and dreams is pointless, and if you are somehow fortunate to leave Skillute, it will only bring you back another day. Skillute decides your fate, and S.P. Miskowski is not afraid to show us the fates of some of its residents, and the darkest aspects of Skillute itself.
In her debut novel, Knock Knock, Miskowski takes you into the bleak lives of a handful of Skillute's residents, primarily centering on three women: Marietta, Ethel, and Beverly. The book begins when the girls are young, and proceeds to cover a span of over fifty years, and how their lives are shaped and altered in terrifying and tragic ways.
Miskowski sets the stage with Beverly, Ethel, and Marietta in a classroom, watching a film on hygiene. The three girls are in the very back of the classroom, where it's dark and no one can see them talking with another classmate, who is telling them the "mortifying details" of her mother's pregnancy, how it's changing her, body and mind. The mother thinks of the pregnancy as a "curse," and can't walk around her house due to swollen ankles. Not wanting to hear any more, Beverly, Ethel, and Marietta decide to make sure that their fates are not the same as the other girl's mother. At eleven, and eleven-and-a-half-years old, they already know all too well what happens to the women in Skillute. Out of desperation, and even a sense of adventure, the girls trek to the woods--a place they are told never to go--to perform a blood ritual that they believe will prevent them from getting pregnant. What they failed to realize, however, was that something ancient, dark, and evil was in those woods, and their actions awakened it, creating a domino effect that would span decades.
The novel proceeds to follow the three girls over the course of their lives. Each chapter focuses on a point of view from one of the three, showing us the trials and tribulations they experience as they grow old and, despite the ritual they performed all those years ago, get married and become pregnant, falling into the endless cycles of their respective families.
While the three women experience the horrors of the real world, underneath the surface lurks an ancient, lingering, palpable, unseen terror; it can be felt throughout the whole of the book, holding you down and not letting you up. Whatever the girls unleashed, it's there, with them, and all of Skillute. It's not until Ethel gives birth to her daughter, Connie Sara, that you truly begin to realize the terror that pervades the book, as it is clear that something is wrong with Connie Sara.
In Knock Knock, Miskowski demonstrates her masterful ability at portraying sad, inescapable family cycles. Beverly, Ethel, and Marietta are fated to stay in Skillute, and end up like their parents, or, at the very least, live somewhat similar lives as their parents did. Miskowski doesn't just show us those inescapable cycles, but how we TRY to escape them. In Marietta's case, she did everything she could to erase her family past; to abrogate everything her Aunt Delphine did, her practice, traditions, everything. Marietta even got married as an attempt to live what she hoped would be a normal life, but she found that she could not escape the cycle. Ethel wasn't sure if she married her husband Burt out of love or convenience. And while Beverly loved her husband Rex, he was a means to survive a life in Skillute. Miskowski beautifully highlights all of the issues that come with a life in a town like Skillute. Miskowski's ability to paint a vivid picture of an impoverished town ravaged by logging companies is incomparable. She shows how these dying towns have a trickle down effect that affects the residents. Skillute was plucked clean by these companies, leading to a poor town economy and lack of jobs, resulting in unemployment, poverty, and other real world horrors.
Light and dark play a vital role in Knock Knock. In Skillute, darkness and decay are the true state of things. Grey clouds, rain, pollution, etc. are the norm. Light, on the other hand, is an illusion, a trap that brings one into a false sense of security. Just ask Greg what the light brought him. A particular scene that drives home the use of light and dark is when Greg horrifyingly discovers that all was not what he thought it was. The light and order he thought he was experiencing was merely an illusion, and the true state of things was actually that of darkness and decay. The atmosphere of Skillute is one of oppression and confinement. The humidity and thick air is enough to make one feel heavy, unable to move and do anything, creating a sense of confinement and helplessness. Miskowski does this so well, that it transfers from the book to the reader with great fluidity. There were times where I could feel the heaviness, the hopelessness, and even the helplessness. And Miskowki's ability to have all that oppression and dread culminate into something truly terrifying was enough to leave me sweating, and my heart beating rapidly. Several times I had to put the book down because I was so scared. Knock Knock is a fine and powerful debut by S.P. Miskowski, and she has quickly solidified her status in the literary world of Horror and the Weird.