LES FEMMES GROTESQUES

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Dark houses, ravenous creatures, and malevolent entities appear in this collection of unsettling tales.

The 18 short stories herein dabble in a variety of horror genres. In the story “Folded Into Shadows,” Agnes Tiller hosts the reality TV series Haunted Renovations. Her latest episode covers a Victorian home that some have entered but never exited, including her older brother. Unseen evils pop up in other stories as well, such as “Dark Inheritance,” in which a woman named Emeline learns that her feeling that something is incessantly following her may be a threat in itself. Other scary things in this book don’t always keep themselves hidden. “The Horror on Sycamore Lane,” for example, unfolds in a seemingly picture-perfect town. However, there are signs that Bob, one of its residents, is physically abusing his wife, Barbara, and something else in their Cape Cod–style home may prove deadly. While the stories’ ambiguous details steer clear of precisely defining creatures and entities, some seem familiar—not unlike werewolves, vampires, and ghosts. There’s also little doubt as to what these sinister things are doing, from hijacking bodies to enacting graphic, visceral assaults. As it turns out, not all these nonhuman characters are malignant; quite a few throughout this collection will garner readers’ sympathy, as they’re merely trying to survive or live in peace. The same is true for humans, as not every one of their horrific or bizarre deeds stems from malice. Even the terrible death that opens “Those Beneath, Devour,” is the result of a string of unfortunate choices.

Dalpe’s grim tales carry a strong tone of foreboding. Many characters find themselves drawn or led to things, as if they’re inescapable. Creepy homes call to them; strange people push them toward their apparent fate; and in the case of the woman in “The Drowned Siren,” a ghost of the sea becomes a relentless obsession. Although the author doesn’t shy away from violent imagery, most stories simply imply savage turns, even when they involve things that bite. In other instances, the visuals are simply unnerving, as in the knockout “Rig Rash.” This tale’s narrator aims to settle in Sanctuary, a town that’s just struck oil. All seems fine until a foul-smelling, oily substance oozes out of seemingly everything—including, most frighteningly, living things. The book’s sublime descriptions zap all kinds of sights to life: a long driveway like a “sloping serpent,” tree branches resembling “tentacles, or reaching arms, or a hundred snakes,” and a crowd of nameless faces “painted red and blue from [a police cruiser’s] flickering lights.” Other stories feature more familiar horrors; more than one deals with domestic abuse, and loyalty to friends or family drops several characters into harrowing circumstances. In “The Guest,” scenes of everyday life preface a simmering horror, as when a seemingly innocuous university professor’s prolonged stay at the narrator’s childhood home coincides with a harsh winter and an inexplicable sickness that pervades the household—much like the terror throughout this entire collection.

A host of disturbing and entrancing short stories.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-955904-23-0

Page Count: 274

Publisher: Clash Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2022

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