This diet app sends a goblin to gut your kitchen
Rachel Harrison’s feminist horror novels are the most original and entertaining, and her collection of stories, BAD DOLLS (Berkley, e-book, $2.99), he is there with his longer works. Full of women on the brink of change – bad breakups, sexual exploration, extreme dieting – they explore the dark side of 21st century womanhood.
“Bad Dolls,” the eponymous story, is a particularly haunting examination of loss. After her younger sister Audrey commits suicide, the narrator discovers a haunted porcelain doll “in a silk-lined damask hat box.” He asks, “If I lived in a world where babies could come to life, couldn’t I live in a world where I could…bring Audrey back from the dead?”
“Technology or magic?” asks the narrator of “Goblin”. It refers to a weight loss app that controls eating in extreme ways, namely by sending a goblin to tear through your cupboards and gut your fridge. The narrator has long struggled with his weight, but with Goblin it’s an inhuman struggle. At the lowest point, he sees himself in the mirror: “My skin was pale, my hair was wet with sweat. The carefully applied eyeliner was smudged and uneven…I recoiled in horror.” It’s a jump scare that reveals the depth of the trauma.
These characters are not spindly, over-sexualized girls running away from a madman with a chainsaw, but complex women facing the pain of staying alive. Harrison slides a scalpel beneath the seemingly smooth surface of their lives to reveal their messy interiors.
What if hell is just a behemoth bureaucracy and the processing of souls is the ultimate exercise in the banality of evil? Claudia Lux’s darkly comic debut novel, Apply HERE (Berkley, 416 pages, $27), asks this question as he follows businessman Peyote Trip as he hustles for the Devil and sends souls to eternal damnation. Peyote (not her real name; identities are scrubbed in Hell) set her sights on the Harrison family. So far, he’s signed up four generations, giving them the perks of prosperity—money, beauty, health, a summer pile by the lake—and if he can lock down the fifth, he’ll get “a one-way ticket back to Earth to do it all over again. “
Peyote, an acerbic deadbeat character — reminiscent of Jim Halpert in “The Office” — works on the fifth floor of hell, where “paperwork is 75 percent of the gig,” the coffee maker always breaks, and the bar only sells records. Jägermeister. Peyote’s existence is shaken by the arrival of Cal, an interesting new colleague promoted from downstairs, a more hellish hell where vegetable peelers peel “the back of your tongue.”
The premise is witty, but it often feels like high-concept theater, the characters little more than Lux’s fire and brimstone riffs. When the conceit gets old, it’s up to the Harrisons to bring the drama. But even though they’ve sold their souls—and seemingly have a free pass to go wild—the stodgy, boring Harrisons continue to indulge in family dinners, vanilla extramarital affairs, and summer getaways to New Hampshire.
The novel’s most exciting villain, Cal, is already in Hell. Compared to him, the Harrisons are angels.
Luke Dumas in his captivating debut THE STORY OF FEAR (Atria, 354 pages, $27.99), an American graduate student in Edinburgh, Grayson Hale, signs a contract to write The Devil’s Story in Scotland. Although the money is good, Hale wonders if the Devil, “sensing one of his kind,” has chosen him for the job. Despite his reservations, he writes the book, but—overstepping the bounds of common sense—murders another student before being found dead in his prison cell, his clothes torn and his body “marred with wounds like the ‘claw marks of a small, three-toed animal.'”
At the heart of the tragedy is Hale’s Satanophobia, which probably has something to do with his father, an evangelical minister with sociopathic tendencies. But Dumas doesn’t delve into their relationship, and as a result, Hale can seem like little more than the devil’s puppet.
Still, Dumas’s layered and evocative writing shines when describing Scotland, the culture clashes of Americans living abroad, and the horror of uncovering a twisted family legacy.
“The first time he killed his rapist, he used a hay-bale hook,” the first line of Emma Alice Johnsons Five Ways to Kill a Rapist on a Farm – just one of many spectacular openings. DARK MATTER THE HUMAN MONSTERS: A Horror Anthology (Dark Matters Ink, 376 pages, paperback, $19.99)is a collection of 35 stories edited by horror connoisseurs Sadie Hartmann and Ashley Saywers.
There are no hay bale hooks in Caroline Kepnes’ chilling “I Did a Thing,” about a hairdresser struggling with murderous fantasies. Just razors.
“The customer has an idea. He wants bangs. This is madness? Your stylist tells you what to say when people want bangs. Yeah, that’s crazy. The customer laughs. This good kind of crazy. Let’s do it. Mandatory. Pull the hair forward. The client is blinded by his own mane. The neck is covered but easy to handle. Grab the head by the face, pull it, pull the razor, that’s it.”
The range of authors in the collection is impressive. As Christopher Golden writes in the introduction, there’s everything from “superstars to rising stars to the very first sparks of hoped-for careers,” making this an ideal horror sampler. “Human Monsters” highlights the monstrosities found in ordinary people, the ones we have to “trust”, the hidden monsters that “walk among us”.
As far as I know, they are everywhere.