What makes the good horror story? I always thought that ghost tales told around a fire or in a dark room pretty much covered the genre. That it would be the suspense and mind-boggling monsters that gave people nightmares.
‘The Blacksmith’ by Susan Shultz is about love, heartbreak, blood, and murder in graveyards. It’s a horror story, but spoiler: It was a great read, even for a grown up, scaredy-cat like me.
Tales from the Graveyard
It wasn’t until I read “The Blacksmith“, that I thought about a different type of scary story. This one is more of a Dark or Gothic Romance. It relies on legitimate fears of loss and the flaws in human nature to make you feel uncomfortable. But don’t misunderstand, if you like blood, ghosts and sociopaths, “The Blacksmith” has plenty of that for you.
Honestly, I have never read a “horror” story willingly. I initially read this book because Susan is my friend and I know her to be an excellent writer from her other work. If you’re willing to read something different (and quite good), I promise you’ll survive!
Suspense and Heartbreak in Suburbia
The main character, Ainsley is a librarian in a “sleepy New England town” by day and a friend to the dead in her backyard at night. Her favorite companion is the Blacksmith, despite his attempts to pull her away from her one real friend: Sam. Ainsley tells us that Blacksmith is a strong presence and reminds her that she belongs in the graveyard with him.
She acknowledges who she appears to be early on: a monster. Susan Shultz has a way of making something terrible sound so eloquent through a lonely woman’s eyes.
“My heart is dead. It does not beat. It died some time ago. It is dead, but it feels hunger, like a zombie. It lurches on, seeking heat, blood. Sometimes, it feels pain. The pain in my heart is the spot where a healed-over broken bone aches when it rains.”
In about 50 e-pages, the story reveals a character who feels love and heartache the way a person might describe feeling a ghost limb. She ignores it and tries to suppresses it with a deranged hobby — murdering men and eating their hearts.
What makes Ainsley such a great character are her flaws, but the question is whether it’s the blood on her hands or her loneliness that destroys her. With a character so extreme and seemingly disturbed, I could almost understand the reasons for her actions, over another character who is more introspective or talkative. What Ainsley does is almost an animal instinct due to her pain and a visceral reaction to something she is missing in life.
Susan is also able to write in other stories within Ainsley’s — those of the people in her graveyard. We learn about those who once inhabited her isolated house and who are now a part of her life.
(The story is actually a three part series – The Blacksmith, Dirt, and Sam – which adds to the stories of various characters around Ainsley.)
In an interview with a local newspaper, Susan explains that the duality we see in Ainsley (between her terrifying deeds and her loving nature) are inspired from her own life. The article is no longer available, but here’s what she says about her inspiration:
“Obviously I’m not a murderer, but there’s the one version of myself during the day that fits in, then there’s the one who is me that doesn’t really fit in.”
“It’s between what we struggle with and what we share with the outside world and who we really are,” [Susan] said.