This month's Nightmare Magazine looks at the distance between monsters and men. Between gods and devils and ambition and destruction. In both stories humans find themselves face to face with…well, I don't want to give too much away. But needless to say the stories look at the evils plaguing humanity, and the horrors that are strictly human-made, and then asks what place supernatural horror and horror writing have in such a world. Where starvation and murder and torture aren't exactly rare. What purpose does the scary story hold? Both stories have answers to that, though they take very different tracks to get to their destinations. But I should really get to those reviews!
|Art by Daniel Sherekin|
"The Old Horror Writer" by Adam-Troy Castro (4308 words)
This is a strange and rather meta story about horror—the horror of life and of an increasingly dire human situation and the horror of fiction, which can almost seem a comfort when standing before the enormity of loss and erasure. It explores, through a rather simple conversation between an old horror writer and…something else, what supernatural horror does. What speculative fiction in general does. How it confronts the frightening, the otherworldly, and how it can be a force for good regardless of the horrors present in the real world. And I love the meta levels, the way that this is horror talking about horror, a story about the business of stories. And I love the depiction of the writer, old and worn out and disappointed. Having had success but not enough to seem like it matters. I can certainly understand feeling like it doesn't matter, like writing is just spitting something out into the void and it should mean something. It should be immortal. It should matter. And in some ways it just doesn't. At least, if mattering means a path to immortality than it doesn't. But the story does show that immortality isn't the only thing worth aiming for. That even if you're forgotten and die alone there's something to be said about telling stories, about writing horror. So yeah, it's a delightful story with a nice sense of comedy and drama and, yes, horror. Indeed! (Also I find it extra meta that I am reviewing a story that discusses being a writer having your work reviewed. Inside this rabbit hole there are ONLY MORE RABBIT HOLES!)
"Sawing" by Lisa Goldstein (5244 words)
This is a rather sinking story about America at the time of the stock market crash of the early Twentieth Century coupled with the Dust Bowl, a one-two punch that was too much for a lot of people across the country at the time. The story follows Clarissa as she works as a chorus girl and then assistant to an stage magician, one whose specialty is sawing women in half. The story does a good job of balancing the slowly building creepiness of Bertoldi with a larger story being told, one that involves missing memories and a nice parallel to the magician. Because in the end I feel the story is about illusion and power. About control, and specifically men controlling women, abusing women. That Bertoldi is violent is perhaps unsurprising, but the story does go that extra step further with its twist and with its depiction of the other man it focuses on at the end, and on Clarissa's unwillingness to be deaf to suffering, her sense of outrage and her need to act, to expose abuse. Not that it does her much good, which is also done well, her powerlessness and the truth of her situation slowly being revealed with an edge of darkness, a promise of action, that is pulled off quite well. And yes, I love that Bertoldi only believes that people can get what they want by wanting enough only because he, as a man, is validated in his desires. When things are finally not in his favor, well, it's a very dark and nicely suspenseful tale that I quite enjoyed!