|Art by Zapatisthack / Adobe Stock|
Both the stories in the August Nightmare Magazine deal with loss. With death. With torture. Feature narrators who have come to bad ends. To have been murdered. Who are awakened by mothers, grandmothers, told stories. Brought into cycles of violence and loss. Through that, the characters connect to family and to memory, having to parse which details are their own traumas and which have been handed down. They’re difficult, sharp reads, with touches of poetry amid the destruction and red. And I’ll get right to my reviews!
“Dead Girls Have No Names” by Claire Wrenwood (3415 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story uses the plural first person, we, not out of affectation or royal status but because they are stitched together out of the bodies of a number of women. Stitched together by a mother who has lost her daughter and is desperate to see the man responsible punished. So this new being hunts men who prey on people and preys on them. Devours them. Until the pain of all the people they’ve killed and all the people those people have killed create a noise that won’t be drowned out. It becomes a pain that the narrator tries to deal with, tries to live with, even as they search farther and farther in vain. It examines what it means to lose, yes, but also what it means for the narrator to have been brought back, crafted to be a killed, a weapon to be pointed and fired. It leaves them in a vulnerable, fragile place, not named, not loved, just a vessel for pain. Through that, though, the story focuses on where they go from there, and it’s a wrenching, draining, grimly beautiful piece.
Keywords: Grief, Loss, Reconstruction, Hunting, CW- Abuse/Rape/Murder
Review: I like how the story moves through the various pieces of the narrator, the sections an act of personal inventory for the character, charting their borders, their wounds. Their identity, really, which for me is at the heart of the story (about a narrator with not heart). The thing is they don’t really know who they are. What they are. Are they even human? Are they a girl? A woman? A collective of women? The title underlines the fact that they aren’t given a name because they are created not really to be the daughter the mother has lost, but to avenge her. A weight that they never chose to bear. A burden that is slowly crushing them. The mother’s grief and the mother’s pain are what is centered, and it leaves no room for the narrator’s grief and pain, what they have to deal with eating the sins of the men who have victimized so many. Taking those voices, crying out in pain, into themself. What is left is a wounded mess, a person who finally learns enough to give it up. To walk away from what they were built for, seeing that it’s not only endless, but that in pursuing it they take place in their own erasure and subjugation. Which doesn’t make anything better. It only furthers the cycles of violence and pain, no matter how much the men they kill need killing. And I love where the story brings the narrator, back again to the mother, the two of them having to set a new course forward, through their pain, to a kind of healing, to an identity not solely defined by their relationship to the dead. An excellent read!
“Redder” by Vajra Chandrasekera (2420 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is dying. Has been tortured and is now lying on the bank of a lake. On its surface, that encapsulates most of the plot of the story, the bit unfolding in real time, at least. Beneath that, though, is a multi-generational story about violence and about hope and about grief and loss. The piece connects the dying person to their grandmother, who stands over them, who wraps them into a story about when she was younger. In many ways, though, it’s also a story about hope, about defiance, about expression. The joy of it and the danger of it. It links the two, grandmother and grandchild, both of whom danced in their own ways, both of whom have come into death, now. It’s strange and lyrical, always returning to red, to blood, to revolution, to pain and loss. Still dancing, despite it all, because of it all.
Keywords: Family, History, CW- Torture, Dance, Assassinations
Review: So going from the clues within the text it seems reasonable to say that the story is in some ways connected to the assassination/torture/murder of Daya Pathirana, a political figure in Sri Lanka from the 1980s. The details, at least, match what I found online. For me, a reader with no connection to the history of the murder, I suspect some of the impact is lost. That doesn’t mean it’s a powerful story and I love the way it captures this moment, the narrator silent part out of the limitations of dying (having a slit throat) and part because dying is such a surprise, such a shock, that there almost doesn’t seem much to say. The narrator is left with the apparition of their grandmother, a woman who, now that they’re dying, seems ready to pass on some of her story, to whisper some of her secrets. Only now that they’re dying is this happening, though, and it’s an almost heartbreaking exchange to me because of it, this grandmother, long dead, mourning her grandchild. Mourning so much about the situation he is in, the culture she never really knew. She’s connecting back to an earlier time, to a kind of simplicity tucked into the story of her sneaking out at night into the jungle. Dancing under the light of the moon. Time and distance are mercurial things in the story, in its poetry. Connected by the red that unites them. The red of the earth, the red of blood, the red of revolution. All this red, all this shared grief. The past, weeping for the present. The past, growing the present. There is a tragedy here, a sadness, a loss, and a whole lot of violence. It’s a stunning read, heavy and complex, and definitely worth spending some time with!