The Den

Written by Abi Maxwell
Review by Katie Stine

In The Den, two sets of sisters struggle with the aftermath of premarital sexual indiscretion. Separated by a hundred and fifty years, both sets of sisters find themselves in the same New Hampshire woods, both censured by their families for acting upon sexual desire. The contemporary set of sisters knows the story of the older ones, through an obscure almost-ghost story in the town history called “The Den.” In it, a family in the 1850s is either transformed into coyotes, or eaten by them. As the story surfaces again and again, the characters’ development is mapped as they struggle to determine if the family really became coyotes, or if the story merely suggests that they found a gruesome end.

The fathers and lovers in this story are also layered: men play both good and evil parts. But this novel highlights that while a boy’s sexual proclivities are his alone, a girl’s sexual actions are not private ones. The community may look away with a titter when a boy’s actions are revealed, but they punish and force decisions upon the girl for the same act. Relevant today politically, this book does not take a view on right or wrong, but rather sides with the girls in question. These girls, and their sisters who love them, are the voices we hear. Decisions made, both good and bad, are those made by the individual, despite their punishments being meted out by group morality.

There are twists and turns and a few surprises in this book—surprises that may turn out to be the bias you, the reader, hold. At times this is a hard lesson, but the book is gripping, a strong hand that keeps your attention page after page. This is accomplished partly through interesting characters and good pacing, and partly through prose reflective of the setting: moody and darkly beautiful.