Dreamy Horror

A Review of Emily Carroll’s “Through The Woods” (Margaret K. McElderry Books, Toronto).
By Derek Newman-Stille

“Through the Woods” is a modern day Grimm’s collection of horror tales, and it is wonderfully grim. Beautifully illustrated in an iconic fairy tale style, Through the Woods creates a sense of discomfort about the environments that we generally consider safe. From tales of sisters being led out of their home by a deadly stranger, to a wife moving into her husband’s home to discover pieces of his former wife spread throughout the home, to a tale of brother killing brother, to a best friend possessed, to family members filled with horrors, . The invasions in this book are bodily, spiritual, and violations of homes. The type of darkness the tales evoke is one that is close to home.

The graphic medium of these stories provides texture to them, a sense of closeness that makes the threat feel all the more real. Emily Carroll illustrates Through the Woods with a smoky quality that lets her stories bleed from the world of dreams into the mists that dwell at the edges of our vision. Words blur across the page, not generally confined to simple word bubbles or simple narration boxes, which are too confining for her style, but rather smeared across the page in a way that makes them part of pushing the action of the story forward. In some cases, dialogue is veiled in blood, part of a streak across multiple panels, tying the narrative together and breaking the simple borders of panels. There is a haunting, ethereal quality to these images which evokes the idea presented in the tales that horror lurks around us, insubstantial, but still hyper-present.

To discover more about the work of Emily Carroll, visit her website at http://www.emcarroll.com/ .

To find out more about Through the Woods, visit Simon and Schuster Canada’s website at http://books.simonandschuster.ca/Through-the-Woods/Emily-Carroll/9781442465954 .

Shifts into the Weird

A review of Lydia Peever’s Pray Lied Eve: Tales of the Untoward (Hora Minor Productions, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover image from Pray Lied Eve courtesy of Lydia Peever

Cover image from Pray Lied Eve courtesy of Lydia Peever

Lydia Peever’s short story collection Pray Lied Eve is deeply psychological, exploring the inner recesses of her characters’ minds as their worlds are shifted slightly into The Weird. Her characters are whirled up in plots beyond them, motivated by forces outside their understanding and forced to explore the meaning of their selfhood as their worlds are shaken.

Her characters are pushed into places of unfamiliarity as their mundane worlds are altered, shifted, and changed. From demonic interventions into a small farm house and a little girl’s small town life, to a man’s obsession with church bells that may be tolling a major change for his world, to a woman’s discovery that apparitions are roaming through her house, Peever takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary and opens windows for an abnormal undercurrent to her readers’ everyday observations of the world around them. With her deep descriptive style, her world becomes real and her vision shared with readers. Readers become enwrapped in a spell of revelation, showing them the potential for oddity in all of the norms that they create and that allow them to feel comfortable about their world.

To find out more about Lydia Peever and her short story collection Pray Lied Eve, visit her website at http://nightface.ca/portfolio/ .

You can explore some reviews of individual stories from Pray Lied Eve at

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/trapped-by-destiny/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/haunted-by-nostalgia/

Haunted by Nostalgia

A review of Lydia Peever’s “Everyday” (in Pray Lied Eve, Hora Morior Productions, 2013).

Cover image from Pray Lied Eve courtesy of Lydia Peever

Cover image from Pray Lied Eve courtesy of Lydia Peever, the photographer and layout artist.

By Derek Newman-Stille

Our houses are places where we are supposed to be safe, places of comfort and security… but what happens when that space is disrupted? Houses can become estranged fast when we are alone, and when changes happen to our dwellings that we know could not occur – the familiar can be quickly made unfamiliar.

Lydia Peever’s short story “Everyday” explores a woman living alone in her house yet waking each night to sounds after dark and finger prints on her door. She loves Halloween, but things start to get strange.

Peever examines the oddity of Halloween, a sort of temporal monstrosity that combines childhood innocence and the darkness of death – candy and monsters. It is a form of escape, but it is also fundamentally dark, reflective, and represents a sort of hyper-reality where issues such as death and the things that we relegate to the dark become visible.

The reflective nature of Halloween and the odd ways that Halloween haunts her house (originally just cluttering the basement with old decorations and nostalgia, and then becoming more real as spectres of children in Halloween costumes drift through her home) cause Kaia to reflect on how her life has become like a haunting, like a parade of Halloween performance and invisibility. She realises that she has been haunting her own life, pretending to live with her costumes of the everyday, an apparition in her own home.

To find out more about Lydia Peever and her short story collection Pray Lied Eve, visit her website at http://nightface.ca/portfolio/ .

Penning the Subtle Murmur of Death and Splash of Blood

A review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s This Strange Way of Dying (Forthcoming 2013, Exile Editions)

Cover photo courtesy of Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Artwork by Sara K. Diesel

Cover photo courtesy of Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Artwork by Sara K. Diesel

By Derek Newman-Stille

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s This Strange Way of Dying is just one step abstracted from reality, with one foot in The Weird. Populated with monsters, magic, and folklore, her work is fundamentally about the human outsider experience, the deeper engagement with the world that comes from being on the fringe, looking in at the oddity that is “The Normal”. From this outsider position, her characters navigate a world that is simultaneously familiar and odd to them. The city in Moreno-Garcia’s work, is a place of wonder and misery. She engages with the estrangement of the urban environment and the isolating and abject quality of living in modernity.

Setting most of her stories in Mexico, and exploring Mexican legends and Mexican urban environments, Moreno-Garcia uses the power of being a person between spaces (both Mexican and Canadian) to navigate the duality of her identity, presenting Mexican themes for a primarily Canadian reading audience. Her stories revel in the creative space of between-ness.

Moreno-Garcia provides the deep and intelligent critiques of “The Normal” that can best be expressed through outsider characters and their ability to have a dual vision of society both from the fringes and from within, questioning and interrogating the norms that are constantly being imposed on them. While engaging with monsters, monstrous changes within, and the touch of magic and death on their lives, her characters explore their relationship to the environment, to mortality, critique capitalist disparity, war and violence, and explore their estrangement from others. Her stories swirl around a critique of people who are obsessed with the mundane while ignoring the violence, disparity, and death around them. The glimpses she provides into the dark don’t allow the reader to escape from the reality of horrors embedded in our world.

Penning shadows that soak and stain the page with midnight ponderings, Moreno-Garcia creates worlds of dark wonder that pull the mind of the reader into a dream-like-state of pondering. Courting death and violence as her muses, and breathing them out onto the page, whispering little deaths onto the paper, she evokes the horror that exists around us, constantly being pushed to the shadows by our own desires to ignore it.

Much like the god of the woods in her story Shade of the Ceiba Tree, her voice is joy and love, yet the reader discovers that beneath the layers of beauty in her words is the subtle murmur of death and the splash of blood on the earth. She, too, wields a double-ended blade of fear and desire.

You can explore some of my reviews of individual stories from this volume at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/coyotes-in-urban-turf-wars/ and https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/commodifying-extinction/ .

To find out more about This Strange Way of Dying and Silvia Moreno-Garcia, visit http://silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/this-strange-way-of-dying/This Strange Way of Dying will be available on September 1, 2013.

Depths

A Review of A.E. Van Vogt’s The Silkie
By Derek Newman-Stille

Van Vogt’s creation, the silkie is both human and fundamentally alien, integrating elements of “us” with the “Other”. Possessing senses beyond human understanding -enough to reframe the entire sensory network – the silkie sees the world through different eyes, yet it is forced to take a human mate and live as a human for periods of time. It is at home in the depths of the ocean and in the expanse of space, able to shift its form from an aquatic being, to a human form, to a space-fairing form capable of swimming through the stars, it possesses the ability to move beyond the limits of human exploration, both sets of depths.

The name “silkie” is borrowed from mythology, from the figure of the “selkie”, an entity that is capable of shifting from the form of a seal to a human form. In myth, the selkie is often female and is trapped into a marriage relationship when a male human being takes her seal skin and she forgets her life under the sea and becomes subservient to him. Van Vogt’s silkie is male, forced by genetic manipulation to take a weaker, human state in order to mate with human females on a cycle to ensure that the silkie maintains its allegiance to Earth. Van Vogt plays with the myth, inverting gender and inverting the impulses of the creature. It is still a creature that can occupy a human form, but is capable of travelling into depths that are inaccessible to humans, and it is imbued with the “Otherness” that comes from having a transformative body and that comes from venturing into places of the unknown or unfamiliar.

Van Vogt’s silkie challenges the alien in other forms – alternating between human and alien bodies, it is capable of confronting difference in the form of invading aliens. Although its body is transformative, the silkies of Earth have been made police officers, enforcing the status quo and resisting change. They challenge alien invaders and eliminate them, sometimes incorporating elements of the alien into themselves in order to best them like an undercover police officer confronting the criminal underworld while allowing him or herself to meld with it.

Thanks to James Kerr for lending me this book. This book is currently out of print, but is available through used bookstores and used book retailers.