Always good to broaden my phantastic horizon. Lacking other languages, besides my mother tongue German, I am limited to anglo-american literature, or at least translations to English.
In comparison with our German phantastic bubble, the anglo-american is much bigger and more diverse. There is so much to choose from.
Judith reviewed this anthology in the last Queer*Welten magazine (number 10) and I clicked and bought the book right after - and was a little bit confused because of all the poetry it consists of.
I know it's part of the title, but I am on the distracted side of the spectrum. :-)
Sorry for all the poetry authors, due to my lack of knowledge I will not review the poetry and focus on my four prose highlights.
Plus, my usual go-to genre is science fiction during the last few years, but I have read Horror since I ran into my first Stephen King novel in 1992.
Hiromo Goto: And the moon spun round like a top
Ok, who agrees that menstruation is not often the focus of prose? Who of you also agrees to the fact that pre-menopause, absolutely wild menstruation cycles are generally out of focus of phantastic prose?
As it turns out, pre-menopause menstruation cycles that take you by surprise are a valid and very suitable topic for a Horror Short Story.
Hiromo Goto has done everything right. Bernadette Nakashima, the main character of the story, wins my heart from page one. She had me here:
"... as she stared down at her short arms. The muscles were so tight that even at rest, her fingers were half-curled. A miniature T. Rex."
I am so much into such details!
There are three side characters in the story, so it's a very classical short story with a minimum of characters, one main topic and a scarce setting. You could transform it to a theatre play, needing only two sceneries (plus maybe a short cab ride, but that might be left out). Furthermore, it lasts only a few days. like a typical menstruation cycle.
While Bernadette is at work, her menstruation visits her without any warning in advance, and, embarrassingly, her workmate Mathew realises this even before she herself does. (As a sidemark, I realised it before she did, too, which is greatly done!)
We learn some minimum stuff about Bernadette, like she only has seven years until retirement (which should be at 65 in the USA, too, shouldn't it?) and she had not had sex during the last nine years. Apart from that, Bernadette herself is not necessarily queer, but Mathew might be and so might be another workmate, Glenda, who Goto describes empathetically, and the subtext tells us Glenda might be asexual. What's really queer here is the menstruation phase Bernadette lives through.
First, the horror is very subtle and (at least for menstruating people) validly horrible:
"A warm, soft bulge of blood slid down her vagina. Instinctively Bernadette squeezed the muscles of her nether region, clenched, but it was too late. Warmcool trickled down her inner thigh."
Bernadette's problems to get out of her office and to her save home in a not so dirty and bloody manner are described in a way that I can relate to only too well, even not having been in such a situation for the last thirty years. (As it seems, Bernadette last menstruation Super-Gau is as long ago as well, but pre-menopause crashes the predictability of her cycle.)
The language details also rock:
"The toilet belched as it swallowed the bloody mass. Relieved, she swaddled to the hallway."
or, a bit later:
"The tampon she'd forced into her dry vagina shot out like a greased bullet. She froze."
"She ran like a battering ram" (no idea what that looks like, but it surely sounds good!)
Another side character is introduced when Bernadette is finally home, Timo, the caretaker of the house, who seems to be a little too interested in what is going on in the house, even for a caretaker.
I would have reviewed the story very well if the horror would have been limited to menstruation GAUs only, but there's more. I considered to reveal a bit of that, but that might keep you from reading. I told a friend about this and another story in this anthology (something about a severed hand that's served for food), and the other story I skipped immediately, disgusted. He asked me: Why do you like this menstruation story so much and the other one you did not even read to the end? Both topics sound equally disgusting for me.
Here's the answer: Because the menstruation story builds a relationship between me and Bernadette first. It does not start with the icky things right on page 1 or 2. I am involved, before the Horror starts. I like this kind of Horror a lot, maybe that's why I still adore Stephen King's prose.
Next to all the "feels too real to only be a story"-details, it's just a very good horror idea. Plus, it's not always the most obvious thing that happens next. It's not one of the too many "bad things happen and in the end, the main character is dead"-horror-stories. This is much more interesting and original. I enjoyed the story a lot and am positive I will stalk the prose of this author from now on.
About the author: Obviously, there have already been novels. Chorus of mushrooms has already been translated into German AND there's an audiobook. I bought it a second ago and look forward to hear it. What I am not looking forward to is my next menstruation cycle.
Strange case by Eddy Boudel Tan
That's certainly queer, but not very horrific. Maybe if you're really afraid of BDSM. The punchline was obvious for me, which might be coincidental due to my having read so much.
Nevertheless, the story is so well written and honest; I have enjoyed reading it a lot.
The story is told from a very interesting point of view. Here's the main character, Jack, talking about his love interest Henry and himself, both on their way of being a doctor:
"It's the same demeaning uniform worn by all the volunteers, but it clings to him while it hangs limply on me. We're different. He's sandy haired and knowingly beautiful. I'm the guy who's easily ignored. Not hideous by any means, but invisible."
Who would not be able to relate?
Sex is very important for this short story and I am usually not interested in reading about sex or sex whishes. Here, I was spellbound until the end.
There are some apt observations about modern love and sex dating and internet conversations which might not even target real life dates.
Glamour-us by Andrew Wilmot
Although there are horror elements in the story, for me it's much more a Science Fiction story as a horror story.
"I wear, visibly and internally, the scars of late-high school anorexia, never fully in the past".
I love the unclearness of this description, my head-cinema turns itself on, but I am not sure what Isee in it.
The main figures of this story are nonbinary, gender-fluid or trans. There's a technology, with which you can change your visual impression on others via a Holo. This idea is far from new, but it's so well thought-through from a queer point of view. Of course there are pros and cons and the topic is complex. Especially, as the main character still is unsure of how they want the world to see them. Plus, is the technology really for them as well? And how do transphobic people react? There the horror begins - and does not end.
Well written, interesting ideas, some doubtful decisions even on the side of the main character.
I really like this counter-argument against the change in appearance for others:
"It isn't for us. It's for them. It's no better than a salve. It tells others how to speak or to respond to us,how to treat us, instead of just treating us like ... [...] human beings."
In our own image by Matthew J. Trafford
First, this is about a really nice relationship between two men. And one of them wants a baby.
There's much background information, especially about the main character (usually conveyed by calls with his mother), and subtext, which I really like. It feels like slice of life, but there's more and yes, there's horror, but in an interesting way. Sometimes, it's much more horrific if the horror is just accepted. Like in the end of Rosemary's baby. This is different, but just as good.
Get the anthology and tell me what you think!
Nelo already told me ens might read it :-)