Mara is a Japanese-American girl with a history of personal tragedy. Though she still cuts herself to quell the pain, she thought the worst was behind her. But her boyfriend's sudden death, and a visit to one of the most haunted places in Washington State, sends her into a spiral of madness, landing her in a psychiatric ward.
Already suffering from dreams of a strange, ghost-infested house in the woods, Mara begins to question the very existence of reality. She is forced to confront the truth about her older sister's death and the reason the ghosts have chosen her as their conduit.
About the Author
Born in Portland, Maine and raised in rural western New York, Jennifer Loring had read Stephen King by age 11 and was writing horror stories within a year. Her first publication was in the Canadian vampire magazine Requiem Aeternam at age 21. She is a member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and the International Thriller Writers (ITW).
The first thing to strike me about Conduits is Jennifer Loring's writing voice. She's got a style and a strong authorial pen that makes reading this novella crackle. Whether she's describing rain falling down a windowpane or the much darker act of deliberately cutting oneself in an effort to control the psychological pain through the physical act of bleeding, there's a consistent beauty and elegance to her words that really appealed to me.
Coupled with that is a wickedly strong story. Conduits is billed as a ghost story, but Loring brings so much more to the table by wrapping her plot in a paranoiac's mystery and the hazy fog of depression and self-doubt. Mara is a cutter, but her problems run in multiple dark, stark streams of deep psychological trauma. Loring expertly ties all of this into a troubled family history and the recounting of Japanese myth from Mara's grandfather to her.
I absolutely loved this novella, and I think it's one of those reads that works best when you know little to nothing about the story. I hadn't read the plot blurb since pre-ordering this book a few months back, which allowed me to forget what it was supposed to be about. Given that, I'd forgotten a lot of the key elements listed in the description and was surprised at the turns it took. I'd love for any future readers of this title to just blind-buy it and ignore the description, simply so they can have the same surprise and shocks over the turns the narrative takes. That said, I'm going to inject a brief SPOILER WARNING here, so by all means skip the next paragraph.
The plot twists are rich sucker-punches, and the way Loring was able to alter Mara's voice between the first and second chapter, after we, as readers, have hung onto her words and trusted her as a narrator, only to be faced with the potential of delusion atop delusion, twisted inside a desperate paranoia and mental mystery, was absolutely enthralling. It was a great way to upset the narrative and call into doubt Mara's legitimacy, which remains inconclusive throughout.
END OF SPOILER
I had previously thought that Blackout would be my pick for best DarkFuse novella this year, but Conduits has quickly called that into question. This was such a rich, multilayered story of psychological horror that it may not only be one of DarkFuse's best novellas this year, it may be one of the best books I've read this year. As far as I'm concerned, Conduits isn't just highly recommended, it's a must have.