Those Who Went Remain There Still is a short Southern Gothic horror novel by Cherie Priest which I listened to in audio format. The story follows two plotlines told in alternating chapters. One is excerpts from Daniel Boone’s Reflections Upon the Wilderness Road which he wrote while leading a group of trailblazers across Kentucky. Every night, Boone and his men are being stalked, picked off, and eaten by a huge bird-like monster.
The second plotline follows the history of Daniel Boone’s descendants in the rural Kentucky area where Boone met the monster. They’re an inbred, ignorant and nasty lot that’s been split into two feuding families. A couple of the family members from each side manage to “escape” by running away, eventually acquiring some education, and progressing to a new standard of living. Each is called home years later when the family patriarch dies and leaves a will which must be searched for in a nearby cave. Here the two plotlines converge.
Priest’s story is unsettling from the start when we read the first entry in Daniel Boone’s Reflections Upon the Wilderness Road as he describes his men’s encounters with the bird monster. At first he reports only cursory images of the thing but as the story continues, we get more sensory details and it gets more frightening. At the end we meet the monster face to face and by this point Priest has complete control over our mental imagery so that everything it does, even the smallest bird-like movement of its head, is disturbing. When Boone’s narrative is over, we assume we’re done with monsters, but no, it only gets more horrifying.
It’s not just the monster that’s unsettling. The two families who descended from Daniel Boone could populate the cast of Deliverance. They are vividly portrayed and utterly odious. Besides Daniel Boone, who we only know through his journal entries and later as a ghost, the only characters who are remotely likable are the two who left Kentucky and even they’re hard to fully endorse since they abandoned their families and wouldn’t have come back if it hadn’t been for the will.
Those Who Went Remain There Still was my first exposure to Cherie Priest’s work and I was impressed. Her writing is vivid, well-paced, and she has a great ear. She has spent most of her life in the Southeast and attended college and graduate school in Tennessee, which probably explains her authentic voice.
Those Who Went Remain There Still is an excellent example of Southern Gothic. I highly recommend the audio version produced by Audible Frontiers and read by Marc Vietor and Eric Michael Summerer. The narrators are both spot-on with their Southern Gothic voices and this is one of those cases where I felt that the audio version might be even better than print. It’s a brilliant performance. You can listen to a sample at Amazon or Audible.