Review: The Secret Skin by Wendy Wagner

cover of The Secret Skin by Wendy WagnerThe Secret Skin by Wendy Wagner
Neon Hemlock (October 2021)
102 pages; $11.57 paperback
Reviewed by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann

“Last night I dreamed of Storm Break, dear Lillian, for the first time since we escaped that salt place.”

June Vogel returns to her family’s estate on the Oregon Coast after being away for six years. In the tradition of all atmospheric, Gothic storytelling, Wendy Wagner sets the stage perfectly in the prologue, hinting at family tragedy and secrets that will be revealed in time. But with only one hundred pages used to tell the tale, readers don’t have to wait long.

In fact, June’s first night back in the house is quite eventful, complete with a creepy child that says things like, “You must really be my Aunt if the house is trying to kill you too.” 

Wagner gives her audience a sweeping tour of the grounds, including the Vogel family sawmill and surrounding forest as June’s new relationship with her niece, Abigail (the creepy child) deepens. It’s clear that Abigail and June would much rather be outside Storm Break instead of inside. Which, to be fair, is indicative of living in the Pacific Northwest and needing to spend as much time as possible outdoors if it’s not raining. 

Eventually, June’s brother Frederick and his new wife come to Storm Break and the dynamic between all the characters changes once again — more secrets, new feelings surfacing, and the possibility for danger. It is positively delicious. This is sometimes the downside of novellas; they are exactly the number of pages they need to be — nothing more, nothing less. But, they could be novels. The Secret Skin could be a four hundred page doorstopper of a book and readers would be happy to spend countless hours wandering the haunted halls of Storm Break. 

Alas, the journey does end and with it comes a feeling of longing and desire that lingers well after the last page. I loved all the supernatural elements, the magic and the unpredictability of The Secret Skin.

I will show up for anything Wendy Wagner writes. Her prose is lush and decadent. There is so much to hold on to and it’s so easy to invest in the fictional lives of her characters. Definitely a new favorite author.

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