Lee Mandelo: The Woods All Black (EBook, 2024, Doherty Associates, LLC, Tom) 4 stars

The Woods All Black is equal parts historical horror, trans romance, and blood-soaked revenge, all …

The Woods All Black

4 stars

The Woods All Black is a queer and trans 1920's story about a nurse named Leslie being called out to help the small Appalachian town of Spar Creek. The initial foreground of trying to provide services to chilly and creepy Christian townsfolk is backgrounded by both gothic and body horror, as well as some romance.

One element of this book that I thought was done well is that it deals with Leslie's wartime trauma (and homophobia trauma). In this aspect, it echoes a lot of the things I liked about T. Kingfisher's What Feasts at Night, about somebody trying to understand what they can trust about their own perceptions in a strange and disturbing environment.

I love the queer solidarity in this book, about people trying to be themselves while being torn down by the airquotes community around them. The feeling of being somewhere unwelcoming and magnetically being pulled to befriend the one other outcast resonated particularly strongly for me.

I also appreciated reading a book taking on a historical trans perspective. Of course that's my language, and not the book's. Leslie calls himself an invert, and follows butch femme scripts that he learned in Paris, not having any other signposts to follow. Stevie is a local to Spar Creek that the locals read as a willful tomboy; he doesn't have the same language as Leslie, but still has a strong sense of his own identity. Mostly, I love that they each have things to teach the other about themselves.

The subtitle to this book is "When they call you a monster, show your teeth". It's got a delightfully sharp "be gay do crime" ring to it, but it's also an accurate depiction of the shape of its story and the revenge fantasy of fighting back against hatred by being the things they hate you for.