Short, scary tales wrapped in ev­ery­day life

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Bill Rambo

AUNITARIAN hym­nal from 1901 con­tains the lines, from a T.H. Gill of­fer­ing: “Shall things with­ered, fash­ions olden/ Keep us from life’s flow­ing spring?” The de­cay of var­i­ous as­pects of ev­ery­day life in­forms th­ese short sto­ries by Winnipeg-born and raised horror au­thor Susie Moloney. Rang­ing from vaguely eerie to hal­lu­ci­na­tory, Moloney’s lit­tle worlds find var­i­ous ways to make the reader’s skin crawl. Moloney lives in New York with her play­wright hus­band Vern Thiessen, also orig­i­nally from Winnipeg. She has pub­lished four nov­els, in­clud­ing Bas­tion Falls, A Dry Spell and The Thir­teen. The Dwelling, from 2003, in­volves a real es­tate agent who sells the same house over and over, to dif­fer­ent luck­less buy­ers. The first and last sto­ries in Things With­ered are also real es­tate-themed. The Win­de­mere is nar­rated by a strug­gling re­al­tor whose own build­ing con­tains the key to her resur­gent suc­cess. The Neigh­bour­hood, or To the Devil With You fo­cuses on the long­time ten­ants in a gen­er­ally quiet sub­ur­ban set­ting. Through­out Things With­ered, seem­ingly mun­dane set­tings and in­ci­dents grad­u­ally turn out to be dan­ger­ous, macabre, or down­right hor­ri­fy­ing. Moloney rarely re­sorts to graphic vi­o­lence or gore for im­pact. Hints of things not quite be­ing right, as well as of­te­nun­der­stated but ef­fec­tive prose, bring the reader along un­til it is too late to turn back. Terry is sure that rot­tweil­ers are “ab­so­lutely a uni­ver­sally mis­un­der­stood dog,” ac­cord­ing to the pet-friendly I Dogs, in spite of the “true men­ace in his growl.” The Hu­man So­ci­ety also in­volves pets, but is also a night­mar­ish ex­am­i­na­tion of al­co­holic des­per­a­tion. Moloney is par­tic­u­larly adept at de­tail­ing peo­ple’s in­ner thoughts and de­sires. Most of her char­ac­ters, pre­sented in first or third per­son, are hiding some de­gree of in­ner tur­moil, with vary­ing suc­cess. Ev­ery­day horror like a tax au­dit, or a trip to the lo­cal pet­ting zoo take un­ex­pected turns in Moloney’s com­pe­tent hands. While some of the plots are clearly su­per­nat­u­ral, oth­ers are not, while a few may or may not be. The am­bi­gu­ity serves to in­crease the ghast­li­ness of the ex­pe­ri­ences. Rec­og­niz­ably or ex­plic­itly Cana­dian set­tings are es­pe­cially en­joy­able for those who live here. Also of note are the sto­ries in­volv­ing some level of apoc­a­lypse, al­beit usu­ally very lim­ited in scope, and only in­volv­ing a few peo­ple. Recla­ma­tion on the For­est Floor be­gins with Sharla’s jeal­ous mur­der of her friend Hi­lary, whose skull she has smashed with a new MacBook. Jus­tice will be done, but not by any hu­man agency. Truck­driver fol­lows a di­rec­tion­less univer­sity grad who de­cides to start a de­liv­ery busi­ness to the dis­dain of his sis­ter. His busi­ness plan doesn’t sur­vive the process. Sev­eral of the sto­ries re­serve their twists for the last page, re­call­ing some of Shirley Jack­son’s sto­ries like The Lot­tery. Still, the knowl­edge that ev­ery­thing is not what it seems in­forms the sto­ries and re­sults in a de­light­ful emo­tional grue­some­ness that usu­ally gives way to an alarm­ing end­ing, even when the reader is ex­pect­ing to be star­tled. Peo­ple who like their su­per­nat­u­ral horror served in gen­teel help­ings that don’t re­sort to gorefests will en­joy Things With­ered.

Bill Rambo teaches at The Lau­re­ate Academy in St. Nor­bert.

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