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.
On its surface, Jennifer Hillier’s Jar of Hearts is a thriller about a killer and those affected by his actions. However, the novel, which takes place on two different timelines, is a multilayered marvel that also explores the nature of interrupted love, looks at the result of trauma and dangerous traits that are carried in DNA, and shows the lasting impact a brutal murder can have on everyone involved in it. Furthermore, Hillier manages to pull off this plethora of elements while also entertaining with a carefully crafted, suspenseful narrative and by delivering a level of viciousness that will appeal to fans of hardcore horror fiction.
There’s a telling moment to be found in the history of one of the stories in Nick Mamatas’s new collection The People’s Republic of Everything, likely the only collection you’ll encounter this year that includes both a counterfactual account of Trotsky’s early days and an account of a garden gnome-turned-nuclear weapon. It comes after “Slice of Life,” a tale of a particular corner of medical research and the philosophical tangents it inspires among those involved in it.
Cynan Jones’s books tend to rest on the intersection of the interior struggles of his characters and the exterior challenges the elements present. It is only through navigating the difficulties in the natural world that the characters are able to excavate the emotional dilemmas they’re unable to process—certainly, the elements, the land, and the creatures dying at the hands of the characters are symbolic of his characters’ moods, but there is always something else happening beyond Jones’s use of setting […]