Review

The Harrowing

by Alexandra Sokoloff



The fortunes of the horror genre have waned in recent years, for
reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the work
itself. There have been indications though that this unfortunate
state of affairs may be due for a welcome reversal. One such
indication is the publication of THE HARROWING by Alexandra
Sokoloff.

THE HARROWING builds slowly. However, from the very beginning,
there is an uneasy tone to the work, a sense that all is not right,
a low-throated holiday hysteria as a dormful of college students
prepare for a trip home during a Thanksgiving Day weekend. Those
who are left behind include Robin Stone, a withdrawn freshman, a
wildflower paired with a southern belle of a roommate who is
everything Stone is not. Stone finds herself in the dorm with four
other students, each a holiday holdover for different
reasons.

Strange things begin happening when one of the students finds a
Ouija board, and the uneasy quintet begins to utilize it --- some
with skepticism, others with anticipation. What they get is a
response that may echo back to a tragedy that occurred in the early
years of their university --- or it may be just a prank being
played by one of their members. When stray manifestations related
to their Thanksgiving séance continue after the holiday,
however, one by one the students begin to realize that what started
as a harmless parlor pastime designed to ward off boredom may have
placed them all in terrible danger.

Sokoloff's background as a screenwriter is evident in THE
HARROWING. As is the case with the best writers, she shows rather
than tells, letting the subtle but explosive interaction among her
characters propel her narrative. Her choice of characters, by the
way, is quite intriguing --- an interesting mix of the extroverts
(jock, rock 'n' roller) and introverts (wallflower, goth,
intellectual) one would have encountered on a college campus 35
years or three minutes ago. Sokoloff knows  each of them down
to their last individual nuance, integrating the strengths and
weaknesses of each into the narrative and ultimately into the
climax. She did not draw these characters out of a creative hat;
there is a reason why these particular students are present, which
is not immediately self-evident.

Sokoloff brings horror archetypes to bear as well within the
context of her novel --- think The Breakfast Club meets
The Haunting meets…well, that will give too much away.
Suffice it to say that even a casual fan of the genre will
recognize the archetypal homage that she utilizes within the
backdrop of this haunting, and ultimately frightening, tale.

THE HARROWING is more than an impressive debut novel; it is an
impressive work, period. I have been reading from this genre for a
long time, though the book still gave me nightmares for two nights
running. I await, and fear, Sokoloff's next work in equal measure.
Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

The Harrowing
by Alexandra Sokoloff

  • Publication Date: August 22, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction, Horror
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN-10: 0312357486
  • ISBN-13: 9780312357481