It’s been several weeks since I first read Maryse Meijer’s Northwood, and I’m still sorting out how best to classify it. For the record, I mean that in the “this is a feature, not a bug” kind of way. This is the sort of book for which the term “hybrid works” was invented: Meijer blends the quotidian with the folkloric, tells much of the story in verse, and utilizes a host of formally inventive page layouts along the way. If the most striking figure of the book’s design — white text on black pages — isn’t indicator enough, I’ll say it clearly: this is not a conventional read.
There are books that get so close to being sublime that plot becomes almost irrelevant. Cristina Rivera Garza’s The Taiga Sydrome has a plot, but it’s exploration of memory, the way it uses language to communicate the ethereal, and the dreamy atmosphere punctuated by scenes of longing, investigation of a mystery, and brutality eventually overpower everything else and push the narrative into a realm where plot isn’t always the most crucial element.
With his debut novel Zero Saints, Gabino Iglesias had created a genre that blended horror, crime, and surrealism and gave an authentic voice to those hustling and scrapping to survive along the Texas/Mexico border. Barrio noir is back with Coyote Songs, and hot damn, is it back with a vengeance.
The Governesses by Anne Serre teases its readers with elements of allegory and fairy story. Three young women stroll through the gates of an enormous manor house which is the kingdom of Monsieur and Madame Austier, and home to a cluster of little maids and boys. Eléonore, Laura and Inès are the titular governesses and extraordinarily lacking in those roles. It is immediately clear to even the densest of readers that no one would hire this trio to watch over guinea pigs, let alone children. As the narrator tells us – “You would even wager there was something fishy going on.”
Plenty of horror stories have something monstrous at their center. For some, the monster comes from somewhere else: another world, an isolated space, somewhere mysterious. With others, the monstrous emerges from within: think about nearly every vampire or werewolf story, and how the familiar is slowly corrupted into the terrifying. There are certainly works that bridge the gap between the two: Sarah Langan’s The Keeper, in which a troubled young woman becomes the haunted vessel for a town’s unease and corruption, is a prime example. The four works collected in Mame Bougouma Diene’s Dark Moons Rising on a Starless Night venture into a similar space. Here, the creatures that bedevil communities are not far removed from the needs of the community themselves, leading to an unsettling duality.
Jeff Jackson’s Destroy All Monsters is about a band struggling to stay together after their friend and former bandmate is among many musicians murdered onstage in an epidemic of mass shootings at concert venues. It’s about the ex-girlfriend of that dead musician. It’s about the city around that dead musician. It’s about the dead musician. In ways you wouldn’t expect, it’s sometimes about the shooters. It’s about you and me. It’s about the time we live in, the times our ancestors lived in. It’s about music. It’s about burning your house down. It’s about facing the gun and being behind it.
Sometimes horror stories play out like puzzles to be solved. That’s not too much of a surprise: plenty of writers have done acclaimed work that falls under the header of both “mystery” and “horror,” after all, from Edgar Allan Poe to Stephen King to Elizabeth Hand. And in these sorts of stories, there’s a sense that the overarching terror might be abated if only a solution is found to something: an ancient crime unearthed, an old price finally paid. But there’s another subdivision of horror that hears a different call: specifically, that horrific events play out under their own logic, and no easy answer can be found for them.
Thirty years after her death, Sara Gallardo’s literary work has been translated into English. For Anglophone readers who delight in the surreal, the counterintuitive, and the singular, this is a welcome occurrence. Gallardo’s 1977 book Land of Smoke is the first of her works to appear in translation; over the course of a host of short stories, Gallardo explores the fantastical, aspects of loss, and unexpected geography.