Still Waters

By EMMA CARLSON BERNE

Next to her buff, blond boyfriend, Colin, serious, studious Hannah has always felt like the less shiny half of a mismatched couple — “nerd-queen and boy-god,” as she puts it. He is the son of a wealthy, cold couple who drink too much and never talk about the mysterious death of his older brother, Jack, nearly ten years before; she is the daughter of an overworked single mother and often the primary caretaker for her younger brother, David. Yet, after nearly a year of dating, it is Colin who is certain that he loves Hannah. She still can’t get past “those three little words.”

The weekend before Colin leaves for college at Pratt, Hannah spies a photograph in his attic showing a house by a lake, “one of those big old places with a wraparound porch and a million windows.” Despite Colin’s insistence that the house, an old vacation home that his family hasn’t visited for years, is “ugly and boring,” Hannah decides it is the perfect place to plan a secret getaway, where she and Colin can spend their last weekend alone, “almost like they were married.”

They arrive, however, at a house that smells of “dead fish,” with the air of having been hastily abandoned, twenty-five miles away from a town straight out of Deliverance, surrounded by deep woods that recall The Blair Witch Project (both cinematic references are Hannah’s own). And as Colin’s behavior becomes dangerously erratic, the story most resembles a summer version of The Shining. Berne shows restraint, allowing a prickly, unspecified creepiness to ramp up slowly, preserving the mystery of the exact nature of Hannah’s psychological terror until the very end.

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