JournalStone Publishing (July 7, 2023)
Reviewed by Andrew Byers
I was delighted to read Jan Stinchcomb’s Verushka, a multi-generational horror story about a being—once a woman named Verushka—who can’t leave a family alone. She’s going to take one of them for her purposes no matter what.
The novel begins with a fire that engulfs the home of a young couple, Jack and pregnant wife Caroline, and their young daughter Devon. The fire destroys everything they own and forces them to rent a cottage in a remote wooded area. It’s here that we first meet Verushka, though since much of this part of the story is told from Devon’s perspective—a highly effective choice—we don’t yet understand the nature of the threat Verushka poses.
Jack doesn’t really matter much to the overall story; he fathered Devon and that’s his role. Verushka is a horror story about women; it is a book centered on their concerns and unique situations. We then flash back to Elaine, a teenager in the late ‘60s about to come of age as a woman and leave her family to go off to college in the Bay area. She is the first member of the family to encounter Verushka, and will eventually give birth to Jack. Elaine’s unwitting entanglement with Verushka will have profound ramifications for her family yet to come in the decades that follow
Caroline is a young mother—eventually a single mother—and has all the worries about protecting her daughter that we would expect. We meet Devon at two points in her young life: first when she is a toddler and then later when she is thirteen, beginning to act out and striving to be accepted by her peers as a young woman.
And then, of course, we have Verushka herself, who is an ancient woman, though she has the appearance of an eternally young one, who has been ill-served by the being who made her the way she is, though she is anything but an innocent victim. We eventually learn Verushka’s origin—sad, horrific, chilling, and steeped in old faerie tales and the bloodiest of folk horror—but I won’t spoil it here. Verushka acts in her own best interests, and doesn’t mind destroying the lives of innocents to get her way.
Verushka is a hauntingly beautiful horror story that shifts seamlessly across time and space and perspectives. As you can tell from the previous description, this is a highly character- and atmosphere-driven novel that blends the modern and the medieval, as the ancient horrors of traditional fairy tales are brought into the modern world. Jan Stinchcomb has masterfully constructed a set of characters and a terrifying and relentless curse that follows a family across three generations. Definitely recommended.