“The Toll” by Cherie Priest is southern gothic horror at its finest. I have high expectations when it comes to gothic horror. Like Gothic architecture, gothic horror must give a sense of impending doom. Your imagination must work overtime, filling every shadowy crevice with unspeakable menaces. Gothic horror is less about full out face to face encounters with boogeymen -although Priest was successful in doing that too- and more about creating a foreboding atmosphere and sense of unease. Creating such an oppressive atmosphere requires more than just festooning a couple of live oaks with Spanish moss. It takes real talent and she did not disappoint. Priest created Staywater, a town that is forgotten even by backwater south Georgia standards. The town is dying as if it is a living thing riddled with cancer. Most of the houses and stores are abandoned and the library lays disheveled, slowly rotting away. They have an entire house filled with thousands of dolls called the Doll Museum. Mannequins in the store windows change their own clothes. There is a bar that is still operational where one of the “regulars” is a ghost named Karl. THAT is the kind of town we are taken to. Nothing good can come from it and the main character (Titus) finds that out for himself. You see, Titus and Melanie Bell plan on honeymooning in Okefenokee Swamp. I am not going to post spoilers, but their personalities make me very glad about what happened when they turned onto State Road 177 and found that seventh bridge. So...what exactly is wrong with Staywater and, more importantly, can it be stopped?
Beth Griffith lives in Maryland with her husband, three children and a pathetically small herd of cats. She enjoys reading smut and gardening. You can watch saucy smut reviews, read salty book reviews and keep tabs on her questionable life choices on Instagram @mrsbeverlygibbs
I was really excited to receive The Toll in my August Nightworms box! I loved her ghost story spooky book The Family Plot and was expecting something equally chilling. However, The Toll was a lot slower paced than I expected and is one of those books where a lot happens, but also nothing happens.
The Toll takes place in a very small rural town of Staywater, Georgia where the swamp air might have a tinge of magic too it. It’s hot and muggy and this town has had a strange amount of mysterious disappearance and happenings around the swamp, but they don’t want to publicize it and have the media find out.
The story follows a bored-as-hell teenage boy and his old ladies who care for him but lead him to think he’s actually caring for them. They live in a big old house in and spend time knitting and talking about the weather and alluding to past happenings. Then the book switches narrators to Titus Bell and his new wife Melanie, they are on their way to stay in some cabins in an adjacent town for their honeymoon. Titus is bickering with Melanie about the honeymoon (she didn’t want to go camping because duh, nothing good happens when you’re camping!, but they are staying in cabins so it’s fancy according to Titus) while they drive over a super narrow covered bridge. Later Titus wakes up in the middle of the road and realizes two things; the bridge he drove over seems to have vanished and so has his wife. He’s not nearly as hysterical as I wanted him to be and the town of Staywater handles it all very blasé. The story moves along with swamp-like pacing and although it’s got spooky atmospheric writing I didn’t get lost into the tale of the vanishing bridge. I got really frustrated with the way things are unveiled like molasses dripping from a jar and wanted more from all the characters. The ladies have granny magic, which sounds awesome—so why didn’t we hear more about it?! There are ghosts and monsters and so much potential, but in the end, The Toll let me down. It felt like a short story even though the book is over 300 pages long. A decent read, but nothing to seek out. Save it for a road trip where you can read aloud and do voices for everyone. I binge read this and then sat on this review for weeks as I mulled over my thoughts. Even now they are muddy and lost in the swamp.
BUY THE TOLL HERE