|Art by Johnny Dombrowski|
"Descent" by Carmen Maria Machado (3513 words)
I love the layering of this story and how it works with the concept of descent. Like the amphitheater, each story within the story is a step down, a new layer. It's a great way of framing the story, of the story in the story, of the story in the story in the story. It works to build the tension and deepen the mystery, to make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. And then it all comes back to the outermost layer but the story brings something with it, something from the deep. Something that gets under your skin and makes the shivers happens. So yeah, this is a good story, about a woman attending a book club and another woman telling a story about what's happening at her school. It works, and it does manage to be frightening. Creepy. Good. The formal aspects of the story might be what make me step back and admire the way that it all pulls together, how it stands as a beautifully paralleled story, but it's the writing itself that makes this hit, that gives that last line its power. Amazing work.
"The Garden" by Karen Munro (4506 words)
Borrowing from the long tradition of fungi-related stories in horror, this one follows an Australian woman spending time in Korea. She falls in with a wild woman and together the two sort of run through a haze of drugs and avoiding the world. For the Australian, it's avoidance of her mother and an oppressive home life. She wants escape, wants freedom, and sees in her Korean girlfriend the answer. For her girlfriend, though, the escape is from guilt for accidentally killing her younger brother, and it's not something that she can get away from. So she retreats further and further into drug use, eventually finding a mushroom that lets her see the threads of reality, that lets her start to pick herself apart. The Australian tries to help her, tries to follow her, but it's of no use. That guilt is transforming her into the mushrooms, pulls her into a garden where there are no rules, but also no hope. It's a somewhat bleak story, but one I enjoyed, full of mood and musty secrets.