Weeping Season by Sean O'Connor
Publisher: Matador | Release Date: June 11, 2019 | Pages: 240
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A man and a woman wake up in the woods, chained to trees. They don’t know where they are, how they got there, or even who they are. Strangers, they are only identifiable to each other by the fresh tattoo inked into their recently shaved scalps. He is Seven, she is Eight. There are others like them in the woods, and they must band together in order to survive against the deadly challenges they are forced to endure by the mysterious entity known only as The Host, watching and listening to them via cameras placed all throughout the pine forest they are lost in.
Weeping Season initially plays a bit like a horror version of the prisoner’s dilemma that evolves into a perilous game of Would You Rather? in its opening moments. Would you rather you and your tribe go without food for a while, or have three fingers cut off? And how does a kidnapped group of kept-in-the-dark survivors forced to trust one another (or not) reach a consensus as a group? Sean O’Connor puts a good deal of thought into the group dynamics here, raising all sorts of questions along the way about both his cast of characters and the deadly Host who has gathered them together for his/her/its own entertainment.
As the paranoia builds, and their individual fears become central to the various challenges they are dropped into, the characters begin to take drastic actions in order to not just survive, but win. Even if they don’t know exactly what winning this game entails. O’Connor keeps both his cast and his readers in the dark damn near the whole way through, but he does leave some interesting nuggets of information to keep you guessing about the central mysteries here — who is The Host, and what is this section of woods called Block 18 all about?
Weeping Season plays out like an odd-duck hybrid of Saw and TV’s LOST, featuring plenty of puzzles, questionable motives, and some grisly action along the way. I won’t dare spoil the big reveal, but it does post some interesting food for thought in its own right and it feels like a logical and honest conclusion given the information that came beforehand (unlike, say, the disappointing and vastly overhyped The Girl on the Porch). It also paints what came before in a new light, which should give the re-readers among us an interesting perspective on this story as they navigate it a second time through. O’Connor takes a risk with his ending, but he planted enough seeds along the way to earn our trust with his smart gamble. Frankly, I wasn’t sure there would be a resolution satisfying enough for the brisk and horrific mystery O’Connor was leading toward, but happily I was wrong.