More Dunhams Manor Press! After this, I’ll be reviewing two other Dunhams books – The Operating Theater by Christopher Ropes and Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales by Christopher Slatsky – before moving onto The Witch.
by Phillip Fracassi
The Gothic genre goes largely unappreciated these days. Before Lovecraft and Machen and Smith introduced their unique pseudo-occult blend of weirdness, it was Poe and Radcliffe and Hawthorne, who wrote sweeping romanticisms of passion, hatred, and fear. It can be hard to find an equilibrium between these genres, as the Weird is predicated on abandoning all former conventions, while the Gothic has a definite vibe to it, favoring more traditional terrors to the highly unusual forces that appear in its daughter genre. But somehow, Philip Fracassi has managed to do it. Mother takes the mystery and intrigue of classic Gothic tales and blends it with the outside forces of the modern Weird tale into a fascinating and terrifying story.
Howard (our narrator) and Julie meet in college, and it is love at first sight. After three years together, they marry – a little too hastily, perhaps. They move to West Virginia. Their house is on the border of a vast wilderness, something which provides inspiration to Julia’s artwork.
Things start to go bad, unfortunately, very quickly. Julia is uncomfortable around Howard’s friends and her art career is languishing miserably. The two grow cold to each other and frequently remain in silence for days. When they do talk, they usually argue and yell. The rift between them continues to grow.
But Julia starts to act peculiar, and it becomes evident that she has found comfort elsewhere. She murmurs and takes long walks in the woods. This reaches its climax when Howard walks into her attic studio and finds her standing naked amidst black candles and demonic symbols. She flees into the woods, ashamed, only to return the next morning.
Things look like they’re at their lowest. But then Julia has an idea. She wants to have a child.
This is Philip Fracassi‘s first excursion into the realm of horror/weird fiction, and, for what is essentially a debut novel, it is fantastic. Particularly in its developments of our two main characters. Julie is driven to do terrible things, but it never feels like she was wrong to probe into them. She is lonely and ruined and she reached out for help. Did she get help? That’s…debatable. The writing is crisp and clean, straightforward, only delving into florid prose when necessary. The dialogue occasionally becomes stilted, but this is a minor and forgivable nitpick in the midst of a truly terrifying novelette.
As I said earlier, the book blends traditional Gothicism with modern Weird, and does so remarkably. Howard is a traditional Lovecraftian narrator, giving off a strong “I am writing this under appreciable mental strain…” vibe, and the isolated location is a modern Gothic castle (with its sinister goings-on in the night), but the fruit of Julie’s efforts is most decidedly in the Weird genre.
And about that – the ending. The ending. It is terrifying. I do not exaggerate – the conclusion of Mother scared the hell out of me, and disturbed me for days after. Not just because of its inherent – creepiness – but because that it suggested terrifying things about what a person will do when they’re lonely and lost. Truly one of the most nerve-racking endings I have ever encountered.
Mother is old-school. And…new-school (if that’s an actual term). It is another success for Dunhams Manor Press. It is a promising debut for an upcoming horror writer. And most of all, it is a deliriously terrifying story.
It’s also buyable! But this edition is limited, less than half of the original one hundred copies remain. You can buy Mother direct from Dunhams Manor here.
Update: after the first edition was sold out, Dunhams Manor rereleased this excellent book on Amazon. The “More Praise” section at the start of the book even features a quote from this review! You can buy it here.