The Woods Are Dark by Richard Laymon, Narrated by Bob Dunsworth

It’s been a long time since I first read The Woods Are Dark. I was a teenager at the time. This version of the story is vastly different from the one I remember, but that’s probably because this is a different version of the narrative from the version I’d been exposed to back then.
Forty years after it was published, it doesn’t hold up as well as some of Laymon’s other material, but it was still fun to listen to the audiobook edition and reacquaint myself with the story.
Two groups of people stumble across the hideous secrets hidden away in the forests near the seemingly quaint town of Barlow, and their lives will never be the same again if they manage to escape.
Neala and Sherri stop at the diner after a harrowing experience on the road, only to find the patrons are planning to serve up something off the menu.
Lander, Ruth, their daughter, Cordelia, and her boyfriend, Ben, stop for the night at what they anticipate will be a peaceful set of cabins, but they soon discover they’ll never have a peaceful night of sleep again.
Facing off against the murderous, inbred, cannibal Krulls, the two groups of victims and an unlikely ally find themselves in a life or death struggle in the woods. But the Krulls aren’t the only things lurking in the darkness, as there’s something even the monsters fear out there.
None of this is pleasant or fun.
This is not that kind of story, and Laymon was not that kind of author. This short tale contains graphic depictions of violence of all kinds, cannibalism, dismemberment, murder, rape, and pretty much every awful thing a reader might expect to find.
Lander’s story is particularly awful and disturbing, showcasing an educated, well-read man descending into madness and depravity in no time at all. The trauma of the experience, the loss of loved ones, and the constant state of terror hardly seem sufficient to explain how one transforms from man to beast in such record time. This descent isn’t something unfamiliar to those who’ve read more of the author’s material. Laymon–as in much of his work–wanted to hint, not too subtly, that our pretense of civilization is more tenuous than we often fool ourselves into believing it to be. So, while it may be unrealistic and a bit absurd, it’s important to note that this is fiction, and Lander’s transformation is meant to be an extreme example, a caricature in a sense, of how primitive and bestial we are just beneath the surface.
There’s a brief, passing reference in the narrative to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (the basis for Apocalypse Now), and there are some intentional similarities to be found in The Woods Are Dark. Laymon knew exactly what he was doing when he crafted this story.
The narration of the audiobook, performed by Bob Dunsworth, was not the best I’ve heard. Dunsworth has the voice of a radio DJ, with clear, articulate, annunciation, but there’s little more that I can say about him. He managed to make the characters distinct enough that nothing got confused or jumbled along the way, but his delivery was lacking in several ways.


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