Cults, College Dropouts and The Art of Control in Two New Story Collections

Ohlin’s sly irony highlights the painful plight of characters for whom closure is unattainable. In “FMK”, Sonia is accompanied by an ex-lover at a funeral, and stumbles across obvious truths: “I thought … the world was a worse place, with the loss of each person, and that the loss of this The moment is worth it. That to run away from death was to deny the value of life. As it turned out, I was wrong.” For Ohlin’s true-life characters, relief comes only for moments, if at all.

Plunkett’s title, meanwhile, comes from a story in which the protagonist, Rachel, hears the critical voice of her mother and her ex-husband as she struggles with an intentionally constipated daughter. “You’ve failed to groom her,” the voices say, implying that Rachel hasn’t taught her daughter enough about her body. “Groom her. It means so much more than she wants to. She’s on the verge of something terrible, something inexplicable.” The “unspeakable” – the threat of sexual maturity and the growing desire for men – permeates the book.

In the opening story of this unique debut, recently estranged violinist Allison moves back to her mother’s home with her young son. Her in-laws are icy, her husband mediocre and her own musical aspirations left behind. “And then one day,” writes Plunkett, “a change occurred, marked by a dream. It was one of those dreams where little happens, but beneath the surface, something is injected into the hustle and bustle of life.” The author might also describe his own aesthetic: dreamy, atmospheric stories that haunt haunting, prolonged tension.

The most magical pieces of Plunkett call to mind shirley jacksonDomestic literary horror, but wacky. In “Scheme”, a young boy is left alone to face the death of his grandmother and, in his horror, meets a disturbing doppelgnger he cannot understand. In “A Bone for Christmas,” Petra, a social worker, must contend with a threatening, gun-wielding client. Not sure what exactly happens to her, instead we’re left with her young son and a “thumping void in his head.” In “Gorgon”, the narrator’s search for a different head turns out to be a vivid metaphor for the gruesomeness of his teenage sexual awakening.

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