Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Lucie McKnight Hardy presents us with unsettling horror stories in Dead Relatives

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An eerie mix of psychological horror and traditional ghost stories

Iris is 13 years old and hears voices – more precisely the voices of her dead relatives. In her eyes, the large country house she shares with Mammy has a ghostly, supernatural quality that, as we later discover, obscures a far more macabre reality.

This eerie mix of psychological horror and traditional ghost story is typical of Lucie McKnight Hardy’s new collection of short stories, the continuation of her burning debut novel about family grief, They will refuse water. Like this book Dead relatives exposes the uncanny in everyday life and encompasses awkward family dynamics, motherhood, and often the psyche of women being pushed too far.

In the story of Iris – the first story of the collection with the same name – we learn that her house is a mother-child house from the 1960s, in which pregnant, unmarried women who were shunned by society had their children. The story is a reminder that even when we look for horror in the paranormal, the really monstrous comes to the fore in what people do to each other in real life.

In many ways Dead relatives as a collection is a maternal horror. In Hardy’s sensual, unsettling prose there are glimpses of blood and bird eggs and an omnipresent smell of putrefaction. All three tragically merge in the story titled “Cortona” when a grieving mother discovers that “the smell of the pigeon chicks, which was once lazy and disgusting and stinky, is actually pleasantly sweet and powdery, like the parting of one Babies. ”

Hardy tells differently of his parents’ worst nightmares or creates women whose actions could make them monstrous. But the “monsters” we meet – the mother who does not love her child, the mother who longs for her former individualized self, the molested and vengeful woman – are often compassionate, sometimes even funny, as they reveal experiences, that contradict the self. to sacrifice the maternal stereotype.

Another story, “Jutland”, is reminiscent of Susan Hills The woman in Black. There is the same barren landscape, the inhospitable house and the worried but unfriendly neighbors. But the reality here is slippery.

At the eleventh hour, in a development similar to Shirley Jackson, small details make us wonder whether we are witnessing a haunting, or worse, a hallucinatory portrayal of postpartum depression.

Occasionally, Hardy flips into speculative fiction, but she is most compelling in her somber pictures of domesticity.

“Sometimes when he sleeps, she thinks of killing him,” she writes in “Rusting Bitch Face,” about a woman who mends clothes for her nibble husband and takes care of her ungrateful father until she, out of patience, turns over her sewing more violent impulses.

In this macabre collection, Hardy stabs the unspeakable – maternal dissatisfaction, the desire to be selfish, and our darkest thoughts of retribution – before flaunting it with harrowing clarity.

We are only just beginning to recognize more rounded accounts of motherhood, and Dead Relatives gives them life in alternating terrifying and dry tones.

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