|Art by grand failure|
My first reviews of 2020 look at the latest from The Dark Magazine, which kicks of the year with two very well paired stories dealing with families and with abuse. With the ways toxic cycles reproduce, and infect, and infest. The ways that they are expressed in those that are hurt, who are broken, and who wonder if there is any way for them to be whole again. The stories are difficult and complex, and offer little in the way of comfort, except to recognize the hurt that is done, and perhaps say that not all abuses have to be passed down, even if they also can’t be completely healed from. To the reviews!
“Mother Love” by Clara Madrigano (3122 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator tells the story of her childhood and her abuse at the hands of her mother. It’s a deeply uncomfortable and horrifying read, not primarily because of what is revealed about her mothers...hungers, but because of the very real kinds of trauma she inflicts on her daughter. The way that she seeks to control her, to dominate her. And it’s a resonating look at how some cycles of abuse and destruction continue and how they consume everyone caught in them. The darkness here is visceral and drowning, and yet it’s something that still rings true to me, that reveals very real ways that people are abused by their guardians, and how it fucks them up, and where they go from there.
Keywords: CW- Abuse, Family, CW- Cannibalism, Murders, Writing
Review: There’s a lot going on in this story, and it’s a beautifully and devastatingly rendered story of abuse and predation. The slow and haunting reveal of all that the mother was doing, is captured and presented to the reader like a magic trick. As we look at the cards the story is showing, this deep abuse that the narrator is relating, we miss the flash of the silver scissors, the pressure on our skin until the sharp stab of pain. Until the blood is flowing. Until it’s too late. For me at least it’s at that point when it all comes pouring out, the truth and the truth beneath it. The hunger that the narrator has been describing throughout that some might dismiss as a kind of normal. It’s something that especially women or assigned women have to deal with, and in some ways are taught to expect, the abuse they might face from other women, from their guardians, their mothers. There’s a small element here where that particular relationship might be challenged, though, where the narrator might be considered someone else’s child, opening a sort of escape hatch where people could say “well this wouldn’t have happened with her real mother.” But I feel the story plays with just that idea, with just that kind of gaslighting. Throughout the pressure is always on the narrator to comply, to not make her mother do something awful. She has no help, no escape, because the outside world wants to see the mother as loving, and as long as the mother gives them a chance with her false love, then the world backs her up. It’s only when her hunger spills over to others that people take note and do anything. The narrator’s trauma and abuse is never reckoned with in all of this. She’s never seen as a victim, merely a bystander and possible collaborator with her mother’s violence. Which is why I feel the story rejects the idea that this woman wasn’t her mother. Rather the story doesn’t seek to protect motherhood by pretending that it is always righteous, always loving. And it shows that this kind of abuse isn’t always something that can be wholly recovered from, especially when the focus is always on forgiveness, always on crafting a narrative that makes it “all right” when it’s not, can never be. And wow it’s just a fantastic and fantastically grim story that you should approach with caution but absolutely check out!
“Forwarded” by Steve Rasnic Tem (5711 words)
No Spoilers: Tom is a somewhat washed up actor whose meager career has mostly been villains. Psychos. Roles that came naturally to him, but that ultimately left him feeling weren’t worth it. Now sixty years old, he’s recently been receiving strange letters from a name from his past—a name that’s no one’s supposed to know about. And then he’s invited back to his home town to attend his little brother’s retirement party. And in going back he dredges up some of what happened when he was little—what was done to him and what he might have done to others. It’s a slow and deep and strange piece, full of repression and guilt and a sharp edge of danger.
Keywords: Family, CW- Abuse, Reunions, Trauma, Mail
Review: This is another story that deals well with trauma, and cycles of abuse. Tom has never really processed the stuff he experienced as a child, the abuse he faced from his father and the ways he passed on that abuse to his little brother. He feels that maybe he’s finally escaped a lot of it, escaped playing the villain and slipping easily into that, but there are some things that can’t really be escaped. And he has to return to where he grew up, where he experienced his abuse and where he committed likewise. And he has to try and process it. The story does a nice job of keeping a lot back. The repression that Tom is engaged in is strong, and it manifests by the story never really coming out and explaining all the weird things. Toby, who is sending the letters, and who might be killing people, seems to me to be a part of Tom, the angry and violent part, the part that passes along the abuse that he received. And it’s possible that in the time that Tom left, “Toby” has become something of his own person, a powerful darkness that seeks to continue the violences that Tom did as a child. Of course, there’s another possibility as well. That “Toby” didn’t leave so much as find a new host. And that the cycle of violence has come full circle, moving from Tom and Will’s father to Tom and finally to Will, who might be acting out things because of his own trauma and abuse. Certainly this violence has hurt everyone its touched, and has become this toxic presence, one that Tom still finds within him, still lurking, never fully banished. And the ending is nebulous, uncertain, with Tom poised either to act on those terrible impulses or try to fight against them. The piece seems to wonder if there’s a too late when it comes to reaching out in compassion and kindness. Or if there’s a too broken, or too hurt. And it’s a complex look at brothers and abuse, and it’s well worth spending some time with. A fine read!