I grew up on a lake. My grandparents had an adorable lake house on one of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York very close to the small town I grew up in. We spent most of our summer days making the quick drive to their house and enjoying the fresh, cool water, the slight breeze, the gorgeous and magical woods, and the secret worlds we created. There were caves, waterfalls, glens, clearings, fields of wild flowers, and of course the lake itself. We learned how to swim and sail on that lake, and spent countless hours sunbathing on the dock and telling ghost stories around the fire on the beach. Our favorites were about the ancient monsters that lived at the bottom of the deep Finger Lakes, which were formed by glaciers making giant cuts in the land thousands of years ago.
Lake houses mean true peace, serenity, and happiness to me, so this book hit me like a ton of bricks. I was always on the look-out for ghosts in and around my grandparents’ lake house, but Scott Thomas’ Violet has made me grateful I never found them!
After Kris’ husband is killed in a crash, Kris takes her young daughter Sadie to her family’s lake house on Lost Lake in Pacington Kansas to get away from the memories and the prying eyes of family for the summer. Kris hasn’t been back to the lake house in thirty years, since she was a child herself. Her memories of the place are happy and full of joy, and she thinks the house could help her and her daughter handle the grief of suddenly losing her husband. The issue (one of many, as it turns out) is that the lake house hasn’t been touched in years. It has been neglected and is now overgrown and even rotting in some places. And it becomes very clear early on that the state of the lake house mirrors the state of Kris’ soul, and just like with her own trauma, Kris assumes she can just slap a coat of paint over it and it will get better.
Not long after Kris and Sadie reach the house, Sadie starts to act very peculiar. Her behavior becomes increasingly erratic. As Kris struggles to decipher what is happening to her daughter, she begins to uncover dark truths about her own past and the history of her family’s lake house that she repressed for years. There was a reason her father never took her back after the summer of 1988, after her mother died. There was a reason why everyone who tried to rent the place for the summer always asked to switch to a different house. There was a reason her father wanted to let the house rot after his own death. And now Kris has to face this truth head on to save her daughter and herself.
I know this summary makes Violet sound like one big metaphor for past repressed trauma, and it is, but don’t worry…it’s full of terrifying paranormal shit too. There were moments during this book that had me on the edge of my seat with my hair standing on end. It truly terrified me. I really enjoyed Thomas’ use of the paranormal concept of tulpas, which is criminally underutilized in my opinion. But as a metaphor for how we manage past and present family trauma, Violet works wonderfully! As my father-in-law says, if you keep sweeping shit under the rug, one day you’re going to trip over that rug.
Thomas’ writing is cinematic and sweeping. He takes his time with descriptions and really lets you sink into a scene. He reminds me of Stephen King in that way. I felt that Violet showed a lot of similarities to Pet Sematary in particular, especially concerning the questions of family, death, and the limits (or lack thereof) of grief. Good horror addresses the nasty truths of life. Thomas has done that here, and he has beautifully crafted a story that all readers can relate to whether they believe in ghosts and tulpas or not.
Throughout the book, music is successfully used to usher in both the beauty of the past and the pain. My lake house memories also have a soundtrack that feels like warm summers, cookouts, laughter, and family. If those songs were suddenly perverted to work directly against those associations, I’d probably lose my mind. This is exactly what Thomas does to Kris, and I loved it. I have to tip my hat to anyone genius enough to transforming “Blackbird” by the Beatles into one of the most horrifying songs in the world. From now on, every time I hear a college dude with an acoustic guitar clumsily strumming that melody on the quad of the campus I work on, I will have to replace my eye roll with a shudder of pure terror!
“Blackbird” aside, I would like to request that someone make a Spotify playlist with all the titles mentioned throughout the book, because they are some of my favorite songs of all time. Whoops, looks like I did that myself.