My New Book!

My New Book!
My New Book!

Saturday, January 20, 2024

January 20-21, 2024: Ava DePasquale’s Guest Post on Grey Dog

[I’m really excited to share my third Guest Post in recent months by a Fitchburg State English Studies alum! Ava DePasquale graduated in December, after contributing immeasurably to our newspaper The Point as well as many other aspects of English Studies and FSU. She’s got a great career ahead as a professional writer, as illustrated by her excellent book reviews blog. I’m very honored to share one of her reviews here!]

Grey Dog: A Gothic Horror Steeped in Grey Imagery and Irrepressible Female Rage

A book review of Grey Dog by Elliot Gish, expected publication: April 2024.

At the tail end of the Victorian era Ada Byrd accepts a teaching post in the claustrophobic farm town of Lowry Bridge. Following the death of her beloved sister and a shameful incident with her previous host family, Ada is welcomed by the Griers. She is offered a second chance in an isolated town where no one is aware of her tarnished reputation. The one room schoolhouse in which Ada is to teach happens to be on what the Griers refer to as “the wrong side of the bridge” and Ada soon finds herself confronted by disturbing visions whenever she ventures across. As Ada begins to lose her grip on reality, her new friends and neighbors begin to turn on her. As a voice beckons from the wrong side of the bridge, how long will Ada be able to resist its call?

A true slow burn, this gothic horror has much to offer. A succinct look at grief and what it does to the mind, coupled with the horrors of being a woman in Ada’s time, this historical horror transcends the early twentieth century to reach into our own and will truly disturb any reader willing to hold on through the slow build and slightly tedious setup.

This debut novel by Elliot Gish is a stunning gothic horror steeped in grey imagery, which melds into an explosive display of female rage and a return to nature.

This story is told via unreliable narrator through Ada’s own journal entries, and while this style sets the story up for a lack of believability in a technical way, I was quickly immersed in the story and could not have cared less about the formidable amount of dialogue in Ada’s diary. I was impressed by Gish’s use of language and embodiment of early twentieth century vocabulary and style. I can’t say how accurate it is for 1901, in which this story takes place, but it sounded authentic to me.

In the first 1/3 or so of my reading I was struggling to believe that Grey Dog truly was a horror, and worried that it had been mislabeled. I was quickly proved wrong, as the horror slowly ramped up starting with small disturbances and continued to develop into a full fledged maelstrom of some of the most disturbing gothic horror I’ve read in a while.

Elliot Gish has a gift for writing unsettling scenes, and certain ones had me feeling like I needed to throw down the book and run for the shower. This book was disturbing in very literal ways, as there are plenty of animal corpses and detached body parts, there are detailed descriptions of what happens when you don’t bathe for weeks at a time, and there are descriptions of what birth and violence does to the female body.

This book is disturbing in a psychological and societal mode as well, as Ada faces the horror of concealing her true self for society's sake, there is the very real and disturbing commentary on a woman’s role and worth according to the early twentieth century norms and then there is the horror that I think we all harbor a bit of, which is our confined existence within a manmade society vs. our instinctual inclination to merely exist in nature. All things that when viewed carefully through the right lens are darkly disturbing and enough to drive anyone completely mad.

Ada’s spiral into madness and untethered feminine rage is spectacular. While on the one hand, our first inclination is a desire for her to find her way back to society and the acceptance of her friends and neighbors, it quickly becomes clear that there is no place for Ada within the confines of the societal norms of her day, there is no way back and this is a wholly uncomfortable realization for the reader. Throughout the course of the novel, she transforms from a meek and guarded spinster, to a wild and irrepressible woman who longs to be consumed by nature.

“I am not a place where nature can be tamed and weeded and kept in order. I am tree roots – and dark hollows – and ancient moss – and the cry of owls. I am not a thing that you can shape, not anymore. I am no garden, but the woods, and if you ever come near me again, every bit of wildness in me will rise up to bite you. I will tear your throat out with my teeth.”

Grey Dog by Elliot Gish

The supernatural aspect of this novel made me think of Slewfoot (my favorite book). Grey Dog is much less gory and considerably less violent than Slewfoot, and while it does not possess quite the same level of bewitching magic alongside its darkness, it is still absolutely exhilarating to watch Ada, much like Abatha, harness that same feminine rage to become just the kind of woman that society fears most.

Grey Dog considers much about what it means to be a woman. In the novel we meet several types: school girls preparing for marriage, wives, spinsters and a widow. Ada’s existence in Lowry Bridge, a small and old fashioned farm town, is challenging because as a spinster, and a secretly queer one at that, she does not fit the societal norm of wife and mother, which the girls of Lowry Bridge are groomed for from a young age.

Yet she quickly befriends the pastor's wife, Agatha, who seemingly is the picture perfect Lowry Bridge “woman.” Ada first meets Agatha as she tends her garden, symbolizing the taming and shaping of nature, an idea also embodied by Agatha as a character. Across the bridge, Ada befriends the outcast widow Norah, a woman rumored to be a witch. For the majority of the novel, Ada is stuck in a limbo between the two women, somewhere in between being the right and the wrong type of woman.

“A good woman. How odd that the phrase has such a particular meaning. One might say “a good man” and mean anything – there are as many ways as being a good man, it seems, as there are of being a man at all. But there is only one way of being a good woman.”

Grey Dog by Elliot Gish

As spectacular as Ada’s transformation is, it is also a darkly disturbing and often uncomfortable scene to bear witness to. As the best horror does, Grey Dog leaves you wondering whether you have witnessed a supernatural experience or a total psychological breakdown.

Grey Dog is one of those novels that is going to stick with me for a long time. In part because it is truly unsettling and disturbing (I have a whole new fear of wolf spiders) but also because it is a visceral dissection of grief pertaining to loss, not only in the traditional sense, but one that is exclusive to womanhood. There is an inherent feeling of loss that comes from what society denies women. In Ada's case this grief completely breaks, and then remakes her. We are left in the end with a swift close of the curtains, there is no closure to be had, there is no clear view of the grey dog, all we know is that there is no going back for Ada Byrd.

“The God of outside waits for you. The grey dog. The God of outside. They are one and the same.”

Grey Dog by Elliot Gish

[Next series starts Monday,


PS. What do you think?]

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