The Yellow Oak by Victor Vahl


If you're looking for something weird and dreamy with a fair amount of body and psychological horror sprinkled in, The Yellow Oak might be the book for you.

Victor Vahl crafted an intriguing story about two men who get lost in a forest run by living, cannibalistic trees. Though the premise is decent, and much of the visuals are fantastic, I was hoping for more atmosphere. I would have appreciated a slower pace to build up the tension and flesh out the characters. My favorite thing about psychological horror, and what really makes House of Leaves phenomenal, is the slow build toward the climax. Not everything is thrown at you at once, meaning there's a ton of detail and hints at the full picture before the terror is revealed. In The Yellow Oak, things happen to Rye and Spencer too early. Due to the near-immediate dive into the horror, I didn't care about what happened to the characters. Backstory came too late; I already felt detached from the main cast when the story reached its peak.

From the editorial side of things (and how could I not touch on it given my background in copy editing), the diction was occasionally problematic. There were plenty of words that took me out of the narrative. It felt like the author had a thesaurus handy and ended up choosing words that were technically synonymous with the obvious word but that didn't fit within the text. This is where I'd have to side with Stephen King's advice; the first word you choose/write is likely the one you should use. Don't worry so much about how sophisticated your prose sounds. The point is to tell a great story and you hinder your reader's enjoyment if they have to weed through odd words and/or phrases. When in doubt, keep it simple.

Overall, the book was interesting and I had no idea where it was going the majority of the time. Though not everything worked for me, I'm sure it will appease much of the horror/thriller fan base.