A debut thriller for fans of Lucy Foley and Liz Moore, Dark Things I Adore is a stunning Gone Girl-esque tale of atonement that proves that in the grasp of manipulative men, women may momentarily fall. But in the hands of fierce women, men will be brought to their knees.
Three campfire secrets. Two witnesses. One dead in the trees. And the woman, thirty years later, bent on making the guilty finally pay.
1988. A group of outcasts gather at a small, prestigious arts camp nestled in the Maine woods. They’re the painters: bright, hopeful, teeming with potential. But secrets and dark ambitions rise like smoke from a campfire, and the truths they tell will come back to haunt them in ways more deadly than they dreamed.
2018. Esteemed art professor Max Durant arrives at his protégé’s remote home to view her graduate thesis collection. He knows Audra is beautiful and brilliant. He knows being invited into her private world is a rare gift. But he doesn’t know that Audra has engineered every aspect of their weekend together. Every detail, every conversation. Audra has woven the perfect web.
Only Audra knows what happened that summer in 1988. Max’s secret, and the dark things that followed. And even though it won’t be easy, Audra knows someone must pay.
A searing psychological thriller of trauma, dark academia, complicity, and revenge, Dark Things I Adore unravels the realities behind campfire legends―the horrors that happen in the dark, the girls who become cautionary tales, and the guilty who go unpunished. Until now.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2018
Audra’s voice floats to me like the scent of roses across a dark, abandoned garden; first sensed, then followed. “We’re stopping just up here.” It takes me a moment to come to the words, to apprehend their meaning. I’ve been very far away, fallen into the deep crevasses of my own thoughts and memories and preoccupations, clouded things, and now she is throwing a bright, silken rope down, beckoning me to climb back up to her out of the murk.
I blink a few times out at the blur of scenery going by my window—it is so terribly vibrant. We are moving so very fast. The farther into Maine we’ve gotten, the tenser my muscles have become. I feel their gentle protests as I come back to myself in the passenger seat of her little Volvo wagon; she’s driving us onward and onward, farther north, further wild.
“Ground control to Major Tom—are you there, Major Tom?” Her voice is supple: deep as a river bend, scratchy as an alto sax, able to convey everything or nothing at all depending on her mood.
“Yes, reporting for duty. And stopping for a moment sounds good,” I say, adjusting myself in my seat.
“You can even stay in the car,” she says quickly, as if not wanting to inconvenience me. “I really just have to use the bathroom.”
“No problem. Might get out to stretch.” I rub my hands on the thighs of my jeans and yawn, looking back out the window.
Towering balsams, firs, and pines in varying depths of green all shimmy like ‘20s flappers in the stiff breeze, birches wrapped like mummies in what looks to be peeling papyrus lean this way and that, grand oaks, maples, and chestnuts muscle in on one another, flared in their autumn robes; a motley conflagration under the dazzling mid-October sun. We are in the middle of a beautiful nowhere, digging into sprawling hinterlands, into territories of wild earth.
The rolling, winding roads away from Bangor took us through towns with names like Charleston, Dover-Foxcroft, Monson, and Shirley, all with their own quaint, beautifully cinematic set dressing. It was like each was curated from grange hall flea markets and movie sets rife with small-town Americana. Stoic stone war memorials. American flags. Whitewashed, chipping town hall buildings from other centuries. Church bell towers in the actual process of tolling, gonging, calling. To me, the sound was ominous in a remote sort of way, unnameable.
I glance over at Audra again, consider her, and wonder if my other students have found out about this little trip. They’ll be upset to hear I’ve undertaken this effort to work with and see Audra. They know I would never do the same for them. The admirers and the sycophants hate Audra. They deride her, mock her, belittle her and her work behind her back. But they’re mediocre, deluded self consolers. She is better than them in almost every way. And they know it.
But I understand her. Because I am her. Or was. Twentyplus years ago, just starting out, full of ideas and energy and hunger and pure, unbridled talent. Dedicated to the work. I can cultivate her. I can make her greater than she ever could have been on her own. None of the others afford me that; not a one.
When Audra first proposed this one-on-one visit, I’d been pleasantly surprised, even a little triumphant. But things couldn’t help but flicker back into memory like sunlight breaking through clouds. Images. Emotions. Colors: cadmium yellow, alizarin crimson, prism violet, cerulean blue. Just snippets, catches of history. I’d lived in Maine for two years, as a matter of fact—but as a much younger man. Barely more than a boy. It was decades ago; many bottles of wine and lovers and lines of cocaine and gallery showings and awards and lectures and semesters ago. So much has happened. So much has grown in the space between me and that capricious boy so far down the tunnel of time that he feels almost entirely obscured from me, insignificant to the man and artist I’ve become. I didn’t tell Audra any of that because my experience here all those years ago holds realities she might consider a little ugly. I didn’t want to ruin our fun. I didn’t want to ruin the potential such a trip might hold for us. I still don’t. So I’m treating this adventure like a clean slate, made just for me and her.
“It’s another mile or two until we stop,” Audra tells me as her eyes track a big pickup roaring by. We pass the mouth of a private dirt driveway. Posted: NO TRESPASSING NO HUNTING, a sign at its edge says. The dirt drive cuts a winding path up a steep embankment, through trees and gone, a scar in the hillside. Halfway up the densely forested slope, I see whorls of gray smoke lifting into the crystalline sapphire sky. I gaze over at Audra again, thinking of the desolation, the beauty, the shocking potential of pure color.
“I can see you here,” I tell her, nodding. “I see you in this place.”
“Yes. I thought you were mad to not go abroad to complete your thesis. Absolutely mad. Every young artist—every good artist—needs difference. It pushes you forward, opens up the imagination to go out there and see the world!” She smiles faintly, sagely as she listens to me, to the bite-size version of this speech of mine she’s heard many times before.
“I know what my paintings need. They don’t need Istanbul. They need”—she takes a deep breath and then gestures around us, breathing out a sigh of pleasure—“this. And all of the money from those departmental awards will keep me comfortable right here.”
“Seeing it now, like this, my guess is you’re right. It suits you. It suits your work.”
“And wait until you see what I’ve been up to since my last update. Any doubts will be cleared away.” There is a devilish little twinkle in her eye. Reminds me of myself right before unveiling a masterwork to a hungry audience. The anticipation. The excitement.
“You sound confident.”
“I am confident,” she replies, sure as granite, light as a summer breeze. As ever, I think, not without some prickliness. But the sudden, joyful flash of her teeth and the uptick of her lips into a smile, the way her hair flares in the sun plunges me into wild, raw infatuation, that just-born kind of infatuation you feel at the beginning of every one of your own very best love stories. The sensation is of a rose reblooming, an egg re-cracking, a sweet, delicious pressure released. It has been this way with me since I met her. This inability to look away from her and what she creates. Even her sheer, bald confidence—I admit I’m the same way. Unwavering about my art. But where I am hotheaded, Audra is all coolness, steady and withholding.
The coolness, the distancing ends this weekend, I’m sure. Why else invite me all the way the hell up here?