You may know Krysten Ritter from her critically acclaimed role as a reluctant superhero P.I. in Jessica Jones, but the actress is bound to turn heads with her upcoming literary debut.
Bonfire is a complex, twisty psychological thriller centered on Abby, a young woman returning to her rural childhood home of Barrens, Indiana. What begins as a darkly personal tale of old family secrets being unearthed expands into a suspenseful portrait of a small-town community, and a riveting exploration of corporate greed.
Bonfire hits shelves Nov. 7, but EW has an exclusive preview of the book in the form of a chilling trailer narrated by Ritter (posted above) and an intriguing excerpt of Chapter 1, which you can check out below. (EW previously premiered an excerpt of the prologue, which you can revisit here.) Read on to see what’s in store for Abby and Bonfire.
Excerpt from ‘Bonfire,’ by Krysten Ritter
State Highway 59 becomes Plantation Road two miles after the exit for Barrens. The old wooden sign is easy to miss, even among the colorless surroundings. For years now, on road trips from Chicago to New York, I’ve been able to pass on by without any anxiety. Hold my breath, count to five. Exhale. Leave Barrens safely behind, no old shadows running out of the dark woods to strangle me.
That’s a game I used to play as a kid. Whenever I would get scared or have to go down to the old backyard shed in the dark, as long as I held my breath, no monsters or ax murderers or deformed figures from horror movies would be able to get me. I would hold my breath and run full speed until my lungs were bursting and I was safe in the house with the door closed behind me. I even taught Kaycee this game back when we were kids, before we started hating each other.
It’s embarrassing, but I still do it. And the thing is, it works.
Most of the time.
Alone, locked in a gas station bathroom, I scrub my hands until the skin cracks and a tiny trickle of blood runs down the drain. It’s the third time I’ve washed my hands since I crossed the border into Indiana. In the dinged mirror over the sink, my face looks pale and warped, and the memories of Barrens bloom again like toxic flowers.
This was a bad idea.
I shove open the bathroom door and squint into the early sunlight as I get back into my car.
At the turnoff I pass a deer carcass buzzing with flies, its head still improbably intact and almost pretty-looking, mouth open in a final sigh. Impossible to say whether it was hit by a car or struck by a passing bullet. Typically fresh roadkill gets scooped up by a good ol’ boy, loaded into a smoker, and made into venison jerky. I hit a deer in my old Ford Echo when I was seventeen; it was picked up even before I was. But this deer is, for some reason, undisturbed.
Hunting game is a main activity in Barrens — the main activity, actually. It’s built into the culture. If you can call it that. Hunting season isn’t officially until winter but every year kids sneak out with a six-pack, a spotlight, and their fathers’ guns to scout for a big buck or watch a few fawns and a doe grazing. And after a few beers, they take shots at whatever they can aim for.
My dad used take me with him to hunt; our father-daughter bonding activities usually involved an outing to the taxidermist. Deer, coyote, and bear heads adorn the walls of our house like trophies. He taught me to step on the bodies of the pheasants he took down while he snapped their necks in one hand. I remember how annoyed he was when I cried over the first deer I watched him kill, how he made me place my hands on its still-warm body and the blood pulsing out of the hole that had ripped its life away. “Death is beautiful,” he said.
My mother was beautiful once, too, until bone cancer did its work. Chewed off her hair, carved her body into a shell of muscle and bone, took her cell by cell. After she died, my father told me it was the ultimate blessing and that we should be thankful, because the Lord had chosen her to be part of his flock in heaven.
I turn from Plantation Road onto County Route 12, which eventually becomes Main Street, struck hard by the smell of cow manure in the heat. It’s mid-June, end of the school year, but it feels like high summer. Fields brown beneath the sun. Another mile on,
I pass a brand-new sign: Welcome to Barrens, Population 5,027. The last time I was here, ten years ago, the population was barely half that. Main Street is in fact the main street, but even on a nine-mile stretch, passing three cars is high traffic.
I count telephone poles. I count crows swaying on the wires. I count silos in the distance, arranged like fists. I turn my life into numbers, into accounting. For ten years I’ve lived in Chicago. I’ve been a lawyer for three. After six months in private practice, I landed a job at CEAW, the Center for Environmental Advocacy Work.
I have a future, a life, a clean and bright condo in Lincoln Park with dozens of bookshelves and not a single bible. I meet friends in downtown Chicago bars and clubs and speakeasies where the cocktails have ingredients like lilac and egg white. I have friends now, period — and boyfriends, if you can call them that. As many as I want, nameless and indistinguishable, rotating in and out of my bed and life and on my own terms.
Most nights, I don’t even have nightmares anymore.
I swore, many times, that I would never go home. But now I know better. Any self-help book in the world will tell you that you can’t just run your past away.
Barrens has its roots in me. If I want it gone forever, I’ll have to cut them out myself.