Mr. Wicker Maria Alexander, 2014.
Horror author Alicia Baum has lost everything in her life: her husband, her talent, and most importantly, a childhood memory she didn’t even know she had.
When her suicide attempt lands her in a mysterious Library between worlds, she encounters Mr. Wicker – a strange being who takes damaging childhood memories and puts each in a book with the young owner’s name on it. This has the dubious result of scarring the children for life to an even greater extent than the harmful memory itself would have.
Mr. Wicker sends Alicia back to the land of the living and she awakens in the psych ward of her local hospital. There she makes friends and enemies and meets ally Dr. Farron, a child psychiatrist who is trying to discover why little children in his care whisper the name Mr. Wicker in their sleep. Together they try to uncover Alicia’s lost memory and save her from Mr. Wicker. Except Mr. Wicker isn’t that bad. And Alicia doesn’t seem to really want to be saved from him.
That is the gist of the plot. Really, however, it is much more complicated and at times confusing. Mr. Wicker has flashes of beauty and wonder and tantalizing dark imagery. The story is creative and fresh, but simultaneously frustrating. We don’t understand exactly why Mr. Wicker is a bad guy, or really, why what he is doing is that bad. He seems more a tragic hero than an ill-intentioned entity. The druidic backstory – where Alexander’s writing really comes into its own – paints Wicker rather to be a more of a savior of his people than abandoned by his gods. Similarly perplexing, his nemesis across time is the ostensible hero of the present-day story.
Alicia herself is a challenging heroine. It is difficult to understand her 180-degree swings of sexual attraction and mood unless we chalk it up to her depression and lost memory. We don’t quite know her well enough – until almost the story’s end – to care much about her. The narrative also switches viewpoints abruptly and often, making it an effort to pick out the wisps of plot threads and piece them together.
Mr. Wicker has great bones: a fascinating plot concept, lyrical imagery and potentially compelling characters. Unfortunately, uneven development of those characters and of the storyline weaken its impact.