|Art by Chainat / Fotolio|
It’s springtime in horrorland with two new stories from Nightmare Magazine that examine tropes and truisms. The stories revolve around ideas, the first around the genre of gothic horror, celebrating it without defending the parts of its history that have been riddled with Issues. Meanwhile the second looks at a saying about hearts and wolves, making literal something that might have otherwise been purely figurative. And in both stories the focus is on escaping the gravity of oppressive and prejudiced violence. It finds characters seeking to pull free from the expectation or requirement that they suffer, that they die, that they become consumed to support the dominant narratives. Subversion rules the day in these stories, which I will get right on reviewing!
“The Girl and the House” by Mari Ness (1775 words)
No Spoilers: In a sort of love letter to gothic horror, a woman comes to a house that is haunted by ghosts and by the living. By women in attics and crypts, men hiding dark secrets and bloody deeds, and servants observing all. She comes into a place where narrative leans toward her being a victim or a heroine, and yet this story avoids either, charting a course instead that brings her to a different place. One strange and dark, as fitting the genre and the tropes she is experiences. From the foundation of the archetypes of the gothic, though, a new kind of darkness rises, and there’s a wonderful twisting of expectations in the piece, and breathing of new life into an old writing style.
Keywords: Ghosts, Haunted Houses, Madness, Parties, Queer MC
Review: I am all for complicating older forms and formats, and that includes those forms and formats that I already enjoy. Gothic horror, with its brooding men and caged women, with its absent servants and plucky and inquisitive heroines, is a tradition ripe for satire. The elements are easily recognizable, the tropes often obvious and expected. And yet for that the story resists simply tearing down the house that Gothic horror built. The woman of the story does not reject the story that is laid out for her. Instead, she devours it. She takes it into herself even as she enters into it. She makes it her own, and in so doing something new and dark is born. And I really like that the story takes the character and puts her in this situation that traditionally requires she be saved, that traditionally requires that she be married to a man who is probably kinda shitty, and instead gives her control of it all. It allows her to enter the house, recognizing that what the house wants, what the genre wants, is to be freed from the bullshit and hate and prejudice, but not the things that make it terrifying and satisfying. In some ways I see it as a statement about gothic horror, recognizing the problematic elements historically associated with it and rejecting those while maintaining and enriching what makes the genre awesome. So yeah, it’s a delightful and dark take on haunted houses and in some ways on tropes and genres. It steers a course through the troubled waters of literary baggage with confidence and power and doesn’t bother looking back. A fine read!
“The One You Feed” by Dennis E. Staples (3900 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story, a Ms. Watersong, is a Native woman working as a waitress at a casino, living with two wolves in her heart. They come from a saying, or maybe the saying reflects something that most people ignore, that everyone has two wolves in their heart, a good one and an evil one, and they grow depending on which one you feed more. Only her wolves are real, and she wants them out of her heart and into the world. The piece centers the pressures on the narrator being Native and queer and not having protections. Having to swallow down her fear and her rage. And how that feeds the wolves inside her, to the point that when they do get out, they are large indeed. The story is tense and strange and does not shrink from anger at what everyone should be angry at, the violence and injustice that run rampant in need of wolves to hunt them down.
Keywords: Wolves, Hearts, CW- Rape, CW- Murder, Queer MC
Review: I love how the story takes this idea, this saying, and makes it real, giving the narrator two wolves that she manages to bring out of her heart and into the world. Because I feel like the story does a great job of showing the weight of what she experiences. The sheer volume of what she must feed to her wolves. The world she lives in, which is our world. is one where she is constantly reminded of those who have been murdered, who have been raped, who have been hurt with no real hope for justice. Because of who they are and what they look like. Because they are Native. And the story explores the toll that takes, the way that it’s always there in from the racism the narrator faces at work or in the relationship with her white girlfriend. People expect her to be quiet and to accept the system because they feel that there’s no other option. That the system is so corrupt that people can act against her with impunity. Except her wolves change that. Her refusal to keep them inside any longer. And I love the way that the story sets up this uncertainty abotu the identity of the wolves, which is good and which is evil, when that’s not really what people should be asking. The because being good doesn’t mean abstaining from violence. It doesn’t mean allowing evil to happen. And it’s a story that doesn’t look away from the violence of the world, though I feel that neither does it revel in some form of revenge. Rather, I see the ending pointing toward a setting of rules that aren’t corrupt. That can’t be exploited through racism or wealth. The wolves have been fed on the suppressed rage and helplessness the narrator has felt her entire life, and their role seems to be to counter the forces of corruption that make everything so unsafe. With the same clinical detachment with which people describe the everyday horrors and violations that they’re okay with, or at least do nothing to prevent or make right. It’s a chilling tale, full of teeth and definitely worth spending some time with!