HAPPY WOMEN-IN-HORROR MONTH! That’s February’s theme here on the Conqueror Weird – we’re celebrating female writers of terrifying fiction!
by Kristi DeMeester
Illustrated by Natalia Drepina
And happy birthday to me! Yes, today, February 2nd, is my birthday – one I share with the gentleman Wilbur Whateley and his charming twin. And what a birthday – plenty of books which will be reviewed ASAP on the website. This particular publication, however, needed an immediate review, due to its low stock level and its extremely noteworthy quality.
Anything that’s published by Dim Shores is bound to be special. They publish these beautiful limited chapbooks featuring fantastic stories by modern masters of the Weird, all illustrated gorgeously by wonderful artists. They’ve only published five chapbooks, and they’re all great – the bleakly surreal Ghosts in Amber, the extreme intensities of Rangel (which I’ll probably get to in my Month of Bartlett – I’ll explain soon), the chilling after, and the theatrical epic of The Nectar of Nightmares (STILL IN STOCK! BUY IT WHILE YOU CAN!). after, in particular, is an absolute masterpiece of horror, certainly the greatest novelette of 2015. That’ll get it’s own review – I don’t care if it’s sold out; that book is too good not to review. But I’m not here to talk about after.
I’m here to talk about Split Tongues.
Split Tongues, written by Kristi DeMeester and illustrated by photographic artist Natalia Drepina, is a bit of a departure from the norm for Dim Shores. Instead of being a standalone story, it contains two short tales – the eponymous “Split Tongues” and the shorter “Dream Eater” – in a little mini-collection. Sharing some common themes, the stories were perfectly paired.
Kristi DeMeester is an amazing writer. The first story I read of hers, “Everything That’s Underneath” (from Nightscript, also on the to-review list), was a haunting story of a woman scorned by her disabled husband as he slowly becomes obsessed with a “door” he’s working on. The story effectively mixed Lovecraftian horror with Jamesian techniques (these latter literally making me jumpy), all the while managing to create an original and unique voice. The characterization was spot-on and the prose was beautiful.
“Split Tongues” follows a teenage girl named Brianne, and her relationship with her divorced parents. Her father has found some comfort (if you can call it that) in a strange religion, and whispers in tongues all about the house, which she visits on weekends (against the protests of her mother). Unfortunately, she is haunted by disturbing dreams; dreams establishing a strange connection between her and her crush (for lack of a better word); dreams with disturbing real-life ramifications.
The longer of the two, “Split Tongues” is truly disturbing. DeMeester makes excellent use of prose to create imagery, and I found myself almost gagging at some of the more…shall we say…intense passages. Other grotesque images will stay with the reader long after the book is closed. Hell, the first line gave me shivers! The creepiness factor is high from the first syllable of the book itself! But DeMeester doesn’t just focus on the oppressive atmosphere. The characterization is stunning. Underneath all of its horror and weirdness and surrealism, the story, at its core, is about a teenage girl who’s going through a divorce. Sure, Brianne can seem calm (even flippant) about the topic on the surface, but there are subtle, well-placed hints that reveal otherwise. She mentions that how, even after he did something unspeakable and divorced her mother, her father would talk to her, apologize again and again. The effect of the religion on the father, and the divorce on Brianne, is exemplified in one haunting line: “Once he found Jesus, he stopped apologizing.” DeMeester looks at the people caught up in the wake of the horrors Lovecraft was so fond of describing, but, more importantly, their emotional struggles with events that are, sadly, all too real.
“The Dream Eater” is short – only six pages – but still seems to pack a punch equal to (or even greater than) that of “Split Tongues”. Focusing on another daughter-parent relationship, this time examining a daughter’s relationship with her mother, the story hints at some cataclysmic tragedy which has had serious ramifications on the Earth. Grass seems to be swallowing everything up, inhabited, at night, by vaguely described monstrosities. The young girl has lost a father to them, and the government is trying (and evidently failing) to keep things under control. The daughter, however, seems to have been influenced by the grass at a young age, and eats the passing dreams of her mother at night while listening to it whisper. Things go downhill, of course…
First off – gorgeous prose. That’s a staple of DeMeester’s work – the grotesqueries, the fantasies, and the beauties. It’s written almost like a prose poem, dreamlike and delicate, all around beautiful. But with this one, the strong suit is the characterization.
I freely admit that I felt like I was going to cry during the final moments of this story. Amidst all the intense horror, my heart was breaking. That was because the mother in this story was characterized so strongly that I honestly could have wept for their plight. It left me in a gloomy depression all night. I have no words to describe it; it is a natural talent of DeMeester and it is truly one of the strongest points of her writing.
As for the three Natalia Drepina illustrations, they are beautiful! They do not specifically illustrate any particular scene, but instead aim to capture the mood of the stories, which they do incredibly well. The cover piece is my personal favorite, with its haunting silhouette, its woodland scenery, and its drifting clouds. The full composition (a wrap-around cover), however, is only available if you buy the book. It also comes with a nice print of the artwork.
Speaking of buying the book, you should go do that. Like, right now. It’s almost sold out (and rightfully so), it comes with a bunch of bonuses (including getting pre-order dibs on the next book – it’s a Cody Goodfellow…), it’s beautifully packaged, it’s extremely affordable, AND you get to read Kristi DeMeester. I see no downsides.
You can buy Split Tongues here. There’s another Dim Shores book in stock – The Nectar of Nightmares, but that’s almost out as well, so you should buy that too, and you can do so here. They’re both fantastic books worthy of your time and attention, as is all of Dim Shores.