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"The Haunting of Velkwood": An Original Take on a Ghost Story

A review of Gwendolyn Kiste's 2024 novel

By J. S. WongPublished about a month ago 3 min read
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Photo of the book cover for “The Haunting of Velkwood,” taken by the author

I encountered Bram Stoker award winning author Gwendolyn Kiste’s stories in horror anthologies, but I never picked up any of her novels. Her 2024 book The Haunting of Velkwood came out in March and I was thrilled to get a brand new copy from my library. In a recent virtual book event, Kiste mentioned taking inspiration from a photo in a photography book titled “Suburbia.” Coupled with her love for ghost stories, this led her to write The Haunting of Velkwood.

Plot Summary

Ever since the tragedy that took her mother and eight-year-old sister, Talitha Velkwood has felt trapped by her past even after she moved on from her small town. When a researcher contacts her about entering the Velkwood Vicinity where a block suburban houses disappeared, Talitha convinces herself she’s doing it for the money, even if she wants answers about the night she and her two estranged friends, Brett and Grace, escaped their homes twenty years ago.

“Instantly, I knew what she meant. The way the people who populate a street can poison it. How the things they say and do seep into the soil, deeper than death, so deep that no one can ever excavate it. All our families believed we belonged on this block, nestled in our pretty little houses. Be we didn’t just break ground here. We broke everything." — Gwendolyn Kiste, The Haunting of Velkwood

Review

As Kiste mentions in the acknowledgements, The Haunting of Velkwood was the most personal story she’s written. When an author writes with such candor, the reading experience feels honest and immersive. Her writing sucked me in with her spare and lyrical prose. I liked how the first-person narration seamlessly switches between the present day and the past, mirroring the permeability between Velkwood and the outside world.

I’ve read a ton of haunted house and ghost stories, but never one about a haunted neighborhood. Although the concept sounded like a mix of sci-fi and fantasy, Kiste keeps it grounded in the real world. The supernatural elements redefine the idea of a ghost, in particular how Talitha is perceived as one when she enters the neighborhood.

“After all, ghosts are rarely subtle. If they were still around, somebody would have seen them by now, lingering the edges of a blurry photo or calling out from within the confines of the street, their ethereal voices ringing out into the night like an eternal curse. But that’s never happened, not once, not in twenty years. The only thing left now is the illusion of that neighborhood. A living memory, a vague mirage.” — Gwendolyn Kiste, The Haunting of Velkwood

Like other ghost stories, the book explores the cycle of trauma. As Kiste says in the acknowledgements, “every life is a haunted house in one way or another.” In some ways, we’re all haunted by the past, stuck in unhealthy patterns which keep playing out in the present. The story asks if we’d rather seek the comfort of the past or take a risk and break the cycle to grow.

Given the relatable theme, Talitha is an empathetic and engaging protagonist. I also enjoyed the dynamic with her three friends (Brett, Grace, and Enid). In particular, Talitha’s relationship with Brett involves a queer romance, portraying the struggles of exploring one’s sexuality in the 90s and 2000s. While Talitha and Brett get more air time, I wish we got to know the others more, especially Enid.

As with many iconic haunted house stories where the setting is its own character, the Velkwood Vicinity has a life of its own. Suburbia can be scary, especially for those who seek to escape cookie-cutter conformity. Beneath the surface, the general peace and quiet hides darkness and secrets we can choose not to see.

As for critiques, I wished there was more explanation about how the supernatural element came to be. Nonetheless, I wasn’t too bothered because I’m used to ghost stories leaving more questions than answers. I also felt like the the resolution made up for it. The ending felt right for the story, especially how it showed why we need to face trauma rather than run from it.

Overall, Kiste has written a fantastic book. If you like character-driven stories and want to read a one-of-a-kind ghost story, grab a copy of The Haunting of Velkwood.

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About the Creator

J. S. Wong

Fiction writer, compulsive book reviewer, horror/Halloween fan. Subscribe if you like stories on writing, books, and reading!

Follow me on Medium: https://jswwong.medium.com/

Follow my Wordpress blog: https://jswwongwriter.wordpress.com/

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Comments (1)

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  • Andrea Corwin about a month ago

    Thanks for the review! I'm adding it to my ever-growing list because of your review.

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