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November’s Nightmare Magazine brings two stories that deal with violence, with torture, and in some ways with roles and expectations. Where the first focuses more on the horror of when a girl breaks from the sugar and spice and everything nice expected of her, though, the second piece is all about the horror of when women go along with those expectations. It truly is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation, and it might just take a voice reimagined from one of the most foundational texts in SFF horror to give a map of a way forward for people that rejects the abuses of convention and fights for a new way of thinking and being. To the reviews!
“Dollhouse” by Adam-Troy Castro (1734 words)
No Spoilers: This story visits three members of the same family (and alludes to a fourth) while giving a slowly widening look a rather special room. It looks like a little girl’s room, and inside it are a dollhouse, a teddy bear, and a toy soldier. At least, those seem to be the most important objects in the room, because each is hiding a secret, and a piece of a mystery the stories doesn’t quite share fully. It’s a strange, visceral piece, focused on exploring torture and making the reader fill in the blanks about the whys, the hows, and ultimately the whos.
Keywords: Prisons, Toys, Family, CW- Torture
Review: The question that probably sticks out to me most in this story is “why?” Because that’s something that the story never really gets to, even as it pulls back and back in the quasi nesting doll narrative. It begins with the father, though he has no memories about himself or anyone else. Then the mother, who remembers the father but doesn’t remember herself or anyone else. Then the brother, who has a much clearer view of the situation but no more control. They’re all being tortured, all trapped it seems for eternity waiting for deliverance that is constantly denied. It’s a hell, and through it all, the question remains as to why? Why have they been imprisoned and through that imprisonment tortured? The haunting answer might be that a little girl had too much power and was a child, perhaps spoiled, perhaps entitled, perhaps corrupt in the way that power can make some people. Certainly for me that seems the most likely implication, in which case the horror stems from a child given power over her parents and reality and abusing it. Which isn’t exactly anything new, and horror as a genre has a huge distrust of women or girls with power. But it might be something else. The horror of the piece seems to be the uncertainty. Maybe these people deserve this fate. Maybe not (and maybe no one can “deserve” torture). For me, it makes for an interesting experiment, but I’m not a huge fan of stories that focus on torture, especially when that seems the whole point. But I certainly think people should check it out and see what they think for themselves.
“The Eight People Who Murdered Me (Excerpt from Lucy Westenra’s Diary) by Gwendolyn Kiste (3671 words)
No Spoilers: Picking up threads from Dracula this story features Lucy as the narrator, speaking to the reader put into the role of the vampire through the use of the second person “you.” The effect is certainly not a confession, though in some ways it reads that way. More like it is a pointed counter to violation. It takes what was expected to be a confession and hones it to a sharp point. This is a story that knows exactly what it is about, intricately framed and wonderfully complex. The plot and the characters might be familiar, might be borrowed, but the effect is entirely original, often uncomfortable, but ultimately triumphant and fierce.
Keywords: Dracula, Vampires, Murder, Gender Roles, Rebirth
Review: I love how you aren’t named throughout this piece. That none of the men are named. Because it takes power consciously away from them, denying them their individuality when they are in essence the same, the same man with the same drives and the same violences. And I just love the frame in general, because the title and the voice and the speaker and the reader are all complicated here. Allow me to nerd out a moment. What I love specifically is that the story in an excerpt from a diary. Which is supposed to be private, supposed to be safe. Only of course Lucy knows full well at this point what that means. Her safety and autonomy are violated again and again, each time putting the blame back on her. With the frame of this being her diary, the reader even outside the role the story puts them in is committing a violation, is reading something that was not meant for them. Only it also was meant for them, because here Lucy is anticipating this violation and turning it back, taking that violence done against her and using it instead against you, who have been put into the role of Dracula. It’s such a cool device and I love it! And it does such a good job of putting the reader in this rather complicit place, which is exactly where they need to be, where we need to be. Because the lesson from the story for me is that it’s everyone. Everyone murdered Lucy, because everyone was protecting the system that made it possible, that encouraged her “punishment” for not being a “proper woman” Who saw her dreams and felt threatened by them. Who didn’t think that she deserved to reach for those dreams, to escape the bullshit system and its dangers. The reader becomes Dracula but doesn’t get a name and doesn’t get to embody the masturbatory fantasy of power and violation. Instead the story is a kind of snare. A way of arresting those looking for a narrative that suits their violence and holding them with a greater and unexpected power. By Lucy’s power, as a vampire and as the fictional author of the story, given voice and agency after so long and not about to give it up again. A fantastic read!