Thursday, October 01, 2020

31 Days of Halloween - Day 1 - Book

When Darkness Loves Us  by Elizabeth Engstrom  (Tor. 1986) is made up of two novellas also including Beauty Is... Both stories are about young women growing up on farms in rural America with isolation and sex being a big part of what are really only coming of age stories in the broadest sense.

In the first story a sixteen-year old newly wed woman is accidentally sealed into a series of pitch black caverns and eventually discovers she is pregnant. What's most shocking in this tale is not what she needs to do in order to survive, but Engstrom's spare storytelling controlling the amount of time that passes in the woman's subterranean life. The story has a peculiar feeling to it and is entirely engrossing.

The second story is about Martha, now in her fifties and living alone on her family's farm while the people of the community, out of thanks to Martha's mother who was a local healer, care for most of her day to day needs. Martha was born without a nose, and while corrective surgery, more or less, fixed that, a traumatic experience in her youth made her something of an imbecile. Now as she finds someone in the community who genuinely cares for her, her intelligence slowly starts to re-emerge and she also develops a confidence that wasn't there before. There's one member of her community who is a real bad seed and has it in for Martha and her new friend and his confrontation with her leads to a dark conclusion. While the ending is abrupt, and not entirely unexpected, since Engstrom does plant the seed for it early on, the story itself is very engaging, and again Engstrom's spare style somehow emphasizes the dread and isolation that provide so much of what makes these stories successful.

This book is a real gem. It somehow wound up in my collection decades ago and remained unread until now. Apparently long difficult to get ahold of, it's now easily available as part of Valancourt's Paperbacks from Hell series cultivated from Grady Hendrix's outstanding book of the same title.

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