Horror author Andy Davidson again re-visits the American South in his third novel, The Hollow Kind, a fable that blends southern gothic, folk, and Lovecraftian horror seamlessly. The story follows the rise and fall of one family’s legacy over several generations in exploring greed and what an unquenchable thirst for power can cost us.
The Hollow Kind is split between two timelines. In 1989, Nellie Gardner inherits her estranged grandfather, August Redfern’s, turpentine estate in Georgia. Nellie, who has been looking to escape her abusive marriage, seizes the opportunity to make a new start with her 11-year-old son, Max, in Georgia. When they arrive, however, Nellie discovers that Redfern Hill is little more than a derelict farmhouse sitting on a sprawling piece of wilderness.
Nellie’s timeline is interspersed with flashbacks to when August first inherited the land from his father-in-law in 1912. Over the next two decades, August builds himself a successful turpentine business and starts a family with his wife, Euphemia. The flashbacks reveal that it’s not just land that Redfern has inherited from his father-in-law but something else that lurks beneath the roots of Redfern Hill, something that demands sacrifice. It is this cosmic presence that ties Nellie and August’s lives together across space and time, demonstrating how the history of a place can shape the lives of those that live there.
As Nellie attempts to forge a new life for herself and her son, the malevolent presence — aptly named the Dweller — begins to make itself known; there is scratching in the walls, objects moving by themselves, and ghostly apparitions. In classic horror fashion, it is young Max that shoulders the brunt of the haunting first, suffering in silence while his mother remains unaware.
Refreshingly, Nellie catches on quickly, sparing us from having to watch another parent dismiss their child’s torment as an overactive imagination. For the most part, Nellie and Max are a team, albeit a dysfunctional one. They are not just haunted by the Dweller but also by the specter of Wade Gardner, Nellie’s abusive husband, as they grapple with the emotional and physical wounds he has left them with. Nellie’s relationship with her son is also held in contrast to her strained relationship with her newly-sober father.
At its core, this is what much of The Hollow Kind is about — family and the legacy of intergenerational trauma. The cosmic horror that has plagued the Redferns is a seeping, untreated wound of greed, guilt, and obsession. But this is not just a story about intergenerational trauma — it is also a story of intergenerational strength and the enduring nature of familial love. It is up to Nellie to roll up her sleeves and expunge the Dweller from the depths of Redfern Hill and break free from the cycle of violence that has long afflicted her family.
While Davidson doesn’t shy away from violence and body horror — there is ample grim and gory content to be had — he steers clear of gratuitous acts. Everything is mindfully executed, resulting in an unflinching yet honest exploration of violence, sacrifice, and healing. The emotional palette is varied, exploring trauma and violence, the infectious nature of greed and power, and the grief and devastation left in their wake.
The Hollow Kind has its fair share of tropes — unexpected inheriting property from an estranged family member, fathers who neglect their children after their wives have died, the English professor who sleeps with one of his students — but Davidson puts in the work to flesh each trope into fully realized characters and plot points. His keen eye for human interaction and the ability to inject specificity into day-to-day disputes ensures most characters are dynamic human beings. However, with such a large cast of characters, some dimensionality inevitably slips through the cracks.
The Hollow Kind‘s setting is as much a character as Nellie, Max, and August. During August Redfern’s chapters, the turpentine camp and distillery come to life with historical details. The prose evokes the physical presence of the property’s old pine forest, muddy creeks, and sagging, abandoned buildings during Nellie’s chapters.
Davidson’s descriptive yet staccato writing style helps balance The Hollow Kind‘s pace, so it never gets too far ahead of itself — somewhat of a rarity in the horror genre. The beginning crawls along because of the necessary backstory, but once it’s past, the dread builds slowly but steadily. The pacing remains nearly perfect until the end of The Hollow Kind, which ends abruptly. Compared to the time we spend with the rest of the story, the ending feels too quickly cut off.
A visceral story that weaves past and present together, The Hollow Kind is a well-crafted tale about secrets that refuse to stay hidden, the weight of past sins, and redemption. With atmospheric imagery, compelling characters, and a gripping premise, Davidson proves why horror is one of the most effective genres for exploring interpersonal conflict and the complicated nature of familial relationships.