It's that wonderful time of the year again; Women in Horror Month. I enjoyed listing my top 10 short stories by female writers last year, so I thought I would update the list, one year on. These are stories not necessarily written during the year, but new to me during that time.
I have listed ten of my favourites from the year, and have added a few reviews. So, as usual in no particular order, here they are;
1. Collect Call, by Sarah Pinborough
2. Love, by Elizabeth Bowen
3. Mountain by Kaaron Warren, from Through Splintered Walls
4. Passing Forms, by Anne-Sylvie Salzman from Darkscapes
5. The Third Person, by Lisa Tuttle
6. These Things We Have Always Known, by Lynda E. Rucker from The Moon Will Look Strange
7. The Navigator, by Angela Slatter from Sourdough and Other stories
8. Rent Control, by Tracy L. Carbone from The Collection and other Dark Tales
9. Satan's Circus, by Lady Eleanor Smith form Satan's Circus
10. The Tale of Biddey Wiggin, by Margery Lawrence from The Floating Café and Other Weird Tales
So now onto some brief reviews.
Love, by Elizabeth Bowen
Elizabeth Bowen's short stories are succinct, acutely observed, dramatic; beautifully written, and as finely wrought as cut glass. More often than not, she is concerned with what lurks beneath the veneer of respectability. Love is a brief, little-known tale, from her collection Look at all those Roses (1941), and it captures the essence of her storytelling. The protagonist (we don't find out her name) is on a fortnight's holiday with Edna, a work colleague, at a seaside location. Their relationship is unsteady. 'If you asked me how I liked Edna I wouldn't know how to answer, but a girl on her own like I am has to put up with some things, and it's slow to go on your holiday all alone'.
They are walking along the rocky, rather remote coastline, their shoes weighed down with sand, when they stumble upon a narrow bay with a dilapidated hotel nestled against the cliffs, seemingly being swallowed up by the landscape. Despite everything, there is a faded board advertising tea, and Edna insists upon them partaking. As they look for the entrance, a woman in a bright blue dress appears, with words of warning; however, their knocks are answered by an unwelcoming youth, and they are soon being reluctantly served tea in the dark, shuttered-up hotel. The strange relationship between the youth and the woman in the blue dress becomes apparent, echoing the unstable situation of the building in the landscape; and of the intrusive cows, all around, reminding me of the bovine threat in Robert Aickman's Hand In Glove. There is a subtle sense of dread, and the reader is kept off-balance, still asking questions long after putting the book down.
These Things We Have Always Known, by Lynda E. Rucker
Things are different in Cold Rest, 'a hard town scratched out on the side of a Georgia mountain ridge, so far to the north it's bleeding over into North Carolina'. Neil is a sculptor, married to Sarah, a native of the town. The bizarre ideas for Neil's work come to him unbidden in his dreams, but at what cost? His brother Gary, an unsuccessful writer, comes to stay, hoping to tap into this strange source of inspiration, but he sees the warning signs and gets away; as does Emma, Neil and Sarah's teenaged daughter. Lynda E. Rucker's sparse, telling prose pushes this bleak tale to its conclusion, where Neil is finally left alone in Cold Rest. 'A little while ago there was a splitting sound, and I heard things scuttling then swarming the sides of the house; it is only a matter of time before what is out there gets in.' The Things We Have Always Known is a haunting tale of the strength of family ties, the power of place, and the misunderstanding which comes from things unspoken. As with all of this author's work, it begs to be re-read many times. My advice to you would be to get a copy of The Moon Will Look Strange right now, if you haven't done so already.
The Navigator, by Angela Slatter
In her short story collection Sourdough and Other Stories, Angela Slatter has created a multi-faceted world of fairy tale, allegory and exquisitely powerful horror. The Navigator, a poignant tale, features the tense relationship between Windeyer, a part-avian, part-human creature, and the protagonist. Betrayal from the past has caused Windeyer to have been cruelly clipped of his wings, and a simmering atmosphere of resentment propels the tale. Bitter memories are never far from the surface, and love is combined with retribution in its tragic yet poetical ending. To me, this author has the unique ability to move a story to its conclusion, yet simultaneously to transfix the reader in a moment of time; with all that entails. Magical.