Note: I’m trying to post reviews on as many of the short fiction nominees for the Bram Stoker Award as possible before the winners are named April 30th at StokerCon 2017, but I cannot promise to get to all. The full list of short fiction nominees can be found here, including links to those stories available online.
“Reasons I Hate my Big Sister” by Gwendolyn Kiste is told from the point of view of the unnamed younger sister in a family whose elder daughter is inexplicably shedding her skin and transforming into something other than human. It’s a fine example of what Mercedes Yardley calls “whimsical horror”. It’s not silly horror, not juvenile, but it is tender.
Our narrator numbers her complaints against her older sister, Elise, and harbors the resentments common to younger siblings. She is young, jealous and petty, but the reader immediately grasps how insubstantial these complaints are. The narrator’s love and admiration for Elise become more apparent as Elise becomes less human and other humans in the story become more monstrous.
Only siblings, and especially adolescent siblings, can truly appreciate the forces that both repel and bind us to one another during transformation, and Kiste does a super job of conveying that in this short tale. Kiste doesn’t ask too much from the reader. This is a simple and straightforward story that is well written. The ending is heroic. It’s a story I will be happily sharing with teenagers in my orbit.
This story appears in the wonderful anthology Nightscript II, edited by C.M. Muller and published by Chthonic Matter. Continue reading
I had a childhood friend who suffered several unlikely calamities, and for several years it seemed as if fate was just waiting for her to drop her guard. Although I’m happy to report that she did survive her childhood and survives to this day, I still worry about her occasionally. So, with this sense of familiarity, I picked up Pretty Little Dead Girls: A Novel of Murder and Whimsy by Mercedes M. Yardley. Outmaneuvering impending doom is the heart of the novel. Yardley’s perfectly clear opening sentences had me hooked.
“Bryony Adams was the type of girl who got murdered. This was always so, and it was apparent from the way that men looked at her as she adjusted her knee socks to the way that women shook their heads in pity when she rode by on her bicycle.”
There’s no doubt about where this story intends to go. Every aspect of the novel moves forward quickly and, almost as soon as the reader understands the problem, Yardley gives us the answer to this dilemma, which is a chorus of characters urging Bryony to run. She must run as fast as she can ahead of fate. It might not work out. It will catch up to her at some point. But, hey, valar morghulis! And while you’re running, Bryony, remember to love fully and truly. There’s no time for games or pouting. Continue reading
Spring has crept forward like the fox who lives in the brush behind the abandoned house nearby. He has been on high alert, sniffing the air and disappearing like smoke for weeks. Like him, this year’s spring was unwilling to touch the edge of winter’s hold, much less challenge it. Very slowly the moon has drawn the fox out, and now he plays about in my yard when he thinks no one is watching. This week he has been so bold as to rest under the forsythia and trot among the boxwoods with his mate. No one can deny that spring is here.
In between bursts of gardening, during which weeds and I spar like Foreman and Ali, I am reading a good bit of horror. This often happens to me at this time of year. Perhaps this habit of reading horror in spring is tied to the violent emergence of life in the garden and the brutal rule of the gardener. How can one be unaffected by the painful decision to rip out a much-loved spirea by its roots so that the butterfly plant will survive? Or fail to enjoy amputating the deadwood in the crape myrtle? How can one help but be impressed by the slow, insectile unfolding of a peony or the cut-short scream of a young rabbit that will feed the vixen and her kits?
Horror is welling up in the short stories I’m working on right now. One story is set in a world where a virus is causing a dangerous psychosis in males. In another story a great aunt finds herself as the last bastion of defense against water creatures with a hunger for young humans.
Every night before I sleep, I’m rereading The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman. In the daylight I’m also reading Maya’s New Husband by Neil D’Silva, which is so gore-soaked it’s almost too much for me. As soon as I’m done with those, it’s going to be The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey (aka Mike Carey) and Pretty Little Dead Girls by Mercedes M. Yardley. I’m also looking forward to The Devourers by Indrapramit Das when it’s available here in North America.
Are you reading any horror now? What has you checking under the bed? I’m particularly interested in new horror by female authors, so send your recommendations.