Spin The Bottle With Death

A review of Helen Marshall’s “Death and the Girl from Pi Delta Zeta” in Gifts For The One Who Comes After (ChiZine Publications, 2014).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Art for Gifts For the One Who Comes After courtesy of ChiZine Publications
Cover Art for Gifts For the One Who Comes After courtesy of ChiZine Publications

In horror films, sorority girls have a metaphorical relationship with death, perpetually constructed as figures who are courted by death. Helen Marshall, demonstrating her characteristic desire to play with tropes to disempower, subvert, and challenge expectations, makes that relationship literal in her short story “Death and the Girl from Pi Delta Zeta”. Marshall’s subversion is as beautiful as it is powerful, shifting reader expectations from the often disempowering genre of horror to play with expected tropes.

Marshall constructs a scene of a typical frat boy party, the sort where women in horror films are often the victims of monstrous acts. She creates the typical scenes of frat boys objectifying sorority girls, in this case literally writing their claims to them on their shirts along with sexualized slogans. Death serves as a contrast to this activity, asked by Carissa to sign her shirt with a magic word. Instead of writing exploitative messages, he playfully writes “abracadabra”.

Death is given celebrity status and constantly asked for his signature by people who he has helped by releasing loved ones from painful lives. Yet, he serves as a romantic contrast to all of Carissa’s previous frat boy lovers by giving her flowers, being romantic, and proving himself a gentle and caring lover. Death is by far the better alternative to frat boys. Horror film, generally constructing frat boys as the typical audience, depicting their expectations on screen, is here reversed by Marshall, who depicts them as background characters serving only as a contrast to the beauty of Death.

Marshall’s sense of play shapes this short story as a thoughtful but exciting piece. Like many of her works, she plays with scenes we have accepted as ‘normal’ and illustrates the beauty in re-framing them and seeing the subversive potential in them. She masterfully plays with normative scenes like a frat party or sending out wedding invitations and inserts a touch of the macabre.

You can discover more about Helen Marshall’s work at http://www.helen-marshall.com/

To find out more about the collection Gifts For The One Who Comes After, visit ChiZine Publications’ website at http://chizinepub.com/

You can read this story online at its original place of publication, Lackington’s at http://lackingtons.com/2014/02/13/death-and-the-girl-from-pi-delta-zeta-by-helen-marshall/

Derek Newman-Stille

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