Horror Corner: May 2023
May 2023 Edition
By Jack Hawthorn, Nikita Imafidon & Christina James
In Adam Nevill’s The Vessel, we’re given the story of a single mother working as a caregiver for an elderly woman who suffers from dementia and dwells in a dark, brooding vicarage. Our protagonist, Jess, is juggling the weighty responsibility of working to provide for her daughter Izzy and also hoping to steer clear of her Ex who has recently been released from prison. However, caring for an elderly woman who chants strange words and is violent with her hands is nowhere near as discombobulating as learning that Jess’s young daughter seems to have formed an unlikely bond with the old woman.
This novella delivers all the creepy vibes one can expect from author Adam Nevill who is a personal folk-horror favorite of mine. Readers can anticipate mystery, gods of old, and brilliant use of both the “old hag” and “creepy children” tropes. But more importantly, The Vessel is about a mother’s struggle and resilience against forces supernatural and human.
This novella is an easily devourable read that I would recommend you enjoy with the lights on. The book is also slightly reminiscent of director Ari Aster’s film Hereditary (2018)—a story in which a grieving woman discovers she knew very little about her late mother’s daily hobbies and the company she kept. Both the book and the film consist of narratives that are psychological, disorienting, and creepy, with a touch of Pagan folklore and “good-for-her” vibes.
Enjoy both the film and book with a Witch’s Daiquiri (rum, Strega, almond syrup, lemon juice, orange juice) to create an unholy trinity of motherhood, media, and drink!
A body can feel like a curse. This is the lesson Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung teaches. In this capturing of our capitalist and gender-surveilling society, heads appear in toilets calling to you as their mother, families are destined to die by their curses, and pregnancy comes from taking too much birth control. These stories are unsettling, due in part to Chung making the conceptual horror of having a body on the margins literal.
When you bleed monthly, you are entering each cycle with an incantation: let my body hold the least pain possible.
Our medical systems run on currency and never hear this call, leaving us in the lurch. In The Tiger and The Cage, Emma Bolden explores her own story of endometriosis and dismissal from family, friends, and most horrifically, the medical institution. Suffering her whole life, she continually seeks treatment to remove excess uterine tissue, told she must marry and have children to find happiness while her body rankles with pain.
Hinged on menstruation and the feral girl, Ginger Snaps (2000) is a cult classic horror movie. Our main characters are sisters desperate to find death, making their own gruesome incantations. As Ginger’s beastly curse coincides with her first period, she attacks, destroying boys as the symbol of her pain.
Each piece asks how much of our bodies can be our own in an oppressive society. A cocktail fit for this hairy question is the Blood on the Tracks from The Art of Mixology. Pour Campari bitters into an ice-filled highball glass and add blood orange juice before topping it with sparkling water. Do not stir, but feel free to stir the festering wounds within for peak ferality.
"This house has good bones."
A common saying and also the basis of a lovely poem by Maggie Short. But what of the houses that are bad to the bone? Those that tower and teeter upon a blood-soaked foundation, calling out to any foolish enough to walk through their gaping front doors.
Even folks who are not drawn to horror find themselves engrossed in these tales, perhaps because a part of us deep down knows the truth that Dr. Joyce Reardon of Stephen King’s Rose Red (2002) knew all too well:
“Houses are alive, this is something we know… If we listen we can hear houses breathe. Sometimes, in the depth of night we hear them groan. It's as if they're having bad dreams."
Rose Red, the titular estate, continues to grow long after the disappearance of its vengeful keeper, Ellen Rimbauer. Consuming visitors and residents alike, the house metastasizes into a sprawling coffin with the driving need to create heartbreak in others as it was experienced by Ellen.
Until the tours stopped and there was nothing left to feed on. Then the house, according to Joyce, went dormant and eventually became a dead cell.
The Mason House of Johnny Compton’s The Spite House has its own history and set of motives, some of which are evident in the style of the house itself. A home not built for warmth or shelter, but for spite. That is bound to soak into the walls. This house, too, has gone dormant.
Just as Joyce Reardon serves as the Pied Piper of Rose Red, so too does Spite House’s Eunice Hougton seek to bring desperate, gifted people into the depths of a hungry house for the sake of satisfying her own agenda.
Every character in each story has their own reasons for being drawn into these deadly homes, their own set of truths and lies that they have told themselves and each other. A house of secrets will always fall eventually.
Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street takes our idea of the haunted house as we know it and renders it brand new in clever, subtle ways that will not reveal themselves until they can no longer be denied in their number and strangeness. There are multiple lines of tension throughout, each of which inverts a trope in its own fashion, but the house itself remains the puzzle at the center. A very satisfying one at that.
These tales often draw upon a certain degree of reality. The decrepit house at the end of the block. The strange old woman who never brushes her hair and speaks in riddles. Rose Red itself is based in part on the Winchester House in San Jose, CA. A labyrinth of a mansion continuously growing at the behest of Sarah Winchester, lest the ghosts of those killed by the rifles her husband’s company manufactured find her and take revenge.
Pour yourself a scotch on the rocks as you pour over these pages. Some of your own ghosts are bound to come calling.
Christina James (she/her) is a part-time Bookseller at the Raven Book Store and a Readers’ Services librarian at Lawrence Public Library. She is extremely passionate about spreading the gospel of horror fiction far and wide and you can find her on Instagram at @the_wandering_reader where she's known by her coven of creeps and ghouls as The Spooky Librarian.
Nikita Imafidon (she/her) is the sidelines buyer and a co-owner of the Raven Book Store. She has been a bookseller for three and a half years, and she is an avid reader of graphic novels, social science books, and strange fiction. She is a Black queer embroidery artist with a passion for ephemeral communication, community building, and social justice. Find her work on Instagram at @nikita.the.star
Jack Hawthorn is a human wildfire currently residing in Lawrence, KS. They are the Events Manager and a co-owner of the Raven Book Store. They are passionate about creating/consuming micro-fiction, experimental writing, and all things that go bump in the night. They love their home and their bookstore and hope that you will too. Their work has appeared in Tilted House, Pyre Magazine, and Snarl. More can be found on them at @honeybeehag on Instagram.
This book cannot be returned. Make sure what you're ordering is exactly what you want.
An eerie folk horror novel from the author of Cunning Folk, The Reddening, The Ritual, No One Gets Out Alive and the four times winner of the August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel.
'A watcher may remark that after sleeping for so long, the building appears to have been roused.'
FINALIST FOR THE 2023 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD IN TRANSLATED LITERATURE
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"The buzz...is real. I've read it and was blown away. It's a true nerve-shredder that keeps its mind-blowing secrets to the very end." —Stephen King
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