In Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein, Victor’s creature seeks to help a destitute family by clearing snow from around their cottage and discretely collecting firewood. Why discretely? Because the Creature had the misfortune of catching its reflection in a pool. He looks different to other people. More than different; he’s hideous. Fearing rejection, he nevertheless grows fond of the family.
The patriarch is a blind man, and when the family leave him alone one day, the Creature approaches the cottage. The blind father welcomes him inside and the two converse amicably. Due to the man’s disability, the Creature is liberated of his tragic appearance and prejudice—but the moment is short-lived. Upon discovering Victor’s creation in their home, the rest of the family attack him. They see only a monster.
The Creature wished to benefit society, but society shunned him for being “other”.
Horror is an exemplar of how genre can reveal or explore prejudices—our fear of the uncanny, foreign, or outcast. Pop Art by Joe Hill is one such story pointing to society’s fickle view of nonconformity.
What I like
Pop Art doesn’t feature Lovecraftian monstrosities. The shadow stalking the protagonists’ lives is their marginalisation, their backstory, their inability to fit in with other children. There is no better introduction to Pop Art’s central character than Hill’s tremendous opening hook:
“My best friend when I was twelve was inflatable. His name was Arthur Roth, which also made him an inflatable Hebrew…”
In many ways, Pop Art feels like a thematic continuation of Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon—although Arthur Roth is more sentient than The Red Balloon’s titular character—and touches on topics such loneliness and innocence. This is heightened by the story’s magical realism shining through the narrator’s gritty backstory.
The narrator is Billy, who was abandoned by his conspiracy theorist mother to a father who suffers from migraines and wants little to do with him. Billy isn’t used to people caring about him, and he takes a switchblade to school and hides behind a bad reputation. The façade is intended to keep others away, but when he witnesses Arthur being bullied, he is moved to intervene. The duo form an unlikely friendship, overshadowed by Art’s delicate mortality.
What follows is an exquisitely written coming-of-age story that can be appreciated by all, because marginalised or not, everyone has at some stage of their life felt misunderstood. Some people are fortunate enough to find companionship, as is the case with Arthur and Billy.
Reading the relationship unfold is a pleasure, but it is tinged by the feeling that the universe is conspiring against them. Joe Hill writes plenty of horror, but strictly speaking, Pop Art isn’t one of them. Its horror lies in its metaphor. The “other” has been found wanting for compassion, and we, society, have failed them.
Pop Art is a Kafkaesque, coming-of-age tale of friendship and ostracization. It features in Joe Hill’s multi-award-winning collection 20th Century Ghosts. Hill will hold your hand and break your heart, but you will be the better for it. (5 / 5)
If you want to read Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts – click below!
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Brutality, Motherhood, and Art: Nightbitch Review
“In the distance, she heard her husband in the backyard call for her , but she was not that woman anymore, that mother and wife. She was Nightbitch, and she was fucking amazing. It seemed she had been waiting for this for a very, very long time.” -pg 89, Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder
Nightbitch is the debut novel of Rachel Yoder about a stay-at-home mother coming to terms with the loneliness and brutality of motherhood. The main character, only referred to as The Mother, begins to undergo a frightening change as she sinks deeper into a depressive state. She transforms into Nightbitch, an animalistic creature full of anger, bloodlust, and freedom. The Mother must utilize the help of a strange book and a group of multi-level marketing mommies to harness her newfound strength before she loses herself or her family.
The novel is a stunning commentary on the everyday violence of motherhood centered within the context of werewolf and mystical woman mythos. The Mother spends much of the book contemplating her future and the abandonment of her dreams. Specifically, she grapples with the loss of her ability to create art, her longtime passion. On a larger scale, Nightbitch examines how many women are asked to stop being individuals after having children and only become mothers–existing only in the presence of their child. The message is clear, poignant, dark, and at times, hilarious. The prose and structure of the book are abnormal, however, it works with the overall messaging and plot.
As far as negatives go, Nightbitch was pretty ambiguous. This was by design, and created an aura of magical mysticism around many of the characters and events. The Mother is the definition of an unreliable narrator. However, towards the end of the book, I would have liked a little more clarity in what certain characters knew.
Nightbitch is a must read for any parent. As a non-parent, I highly recommend it for those interested in feminist horror or more avant-garde approaches to horror narratives. Those who don’t like books with heavy introspection or ambiguous storytelling may enjoy something else, however I still think it is an interesting read nonetheless.(4.4 / 5)
Gothic, Ghosts, and Tlachiqueros: The Hacienda Review
“Dread washed over me. Had she been sitting there, watching me sleep, the whole night? Her skin gleamed like candle wax in the light; then she grinned and whatever color her eyes had been before, now they turned red. In an instant, her skin transformed, dried and desiccated into leather, and her teeth grew long and needle sharp.” -pg 214, The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas
The Hacienda is a gothic horror novel by Isabel Cañas set in the wake of Mexico’s War for Independence. The debut novel by Cañas, it delivers a classic haunted house tale with a twist of Mexican high society. Recently made homeless by the execution of her father, Beatriz marries Don Solórzano to escape her cruel treatment by her relatives. However, once she joins him on his estate, she finds that the promise of a new life holds dark secrets and darker spirits. She enlists the help of a priest, Andrés, to uncover both. Together, they find the home has more dangers than they bargained for. And more threats both supernatural and far too material await every corner.
I adored The Hacienda from start to finish. Cañas’s prose was accessible but full of deep imagery. While told from the perspective of both Beatriz and Andrés, neither outweighed the other. The perspectives were interesting and the transition between the two was well executed throughout the novel. I usually don’t seek out romantic books, but I loved the romantic and sexual tension between the two main characters. Specifically since the romantic tension developed within both perspectives, the relationship’s “will-they-won’t-they” felt both plausible and full of stakes. And of course, The Hacienda was spooky! I loved the way the spirits manifested and the impact that had on the characters.
My only minor criticisms would be the resolution was fairly quick and mostly offscreen. Though maybe I’m just saying that because I wanted to keep reading, even after the book ended! I also found myself slightly annoyed at the characters for not picking up on some of the more obvious clues to what had happened in the house.
A thoroughly enjoyable gothic (and dare I say, romantic) novel that kept me on the edge of my seat, I highly recommend The Hacienda. If you enjoy haunted house tales, you will enjoy this book.(4.8 / 5)
Preorder Isabel Cañas’s new book Vampires of El Norte now!
“The Family Game” Glimpses Into The 1%
Are their traditions innocent or are they darker than they seem?
Harry, short for Harriet, is a British writer gaining popularity after the publishing of her first novel. She meets Edward, a member of the widely known Holbeck family, and the two strike up a relationship. The Holbecks are high powered executives, running family businesses that bring in massive amounts of wealth. When Harry learns she is pregnant, the couple decide that it is finally time for her to meet the family.
During her first meeting with the family, Edward’s father, Robert gives Harry a vintage tape that he says holds a story that he’d like her to listen to. As Harry listens to the tape, she begins to believe that the Holbecks have done some very bad things.
As she continues visiting the family, their strange traditions are revealed to her. The games that they play traditionally involve darkness and fear. Can Harriet find out the truth about the mysterious Holbecks?
Catherine Steadman outdoes herself in The Family Game. She creates such a mysterious family in the Holbecks and their dynamics are intriguing. Readers will follow Harry as she tries to determine the truth about Robert’s misdoings. The cast of family characters are a wonder to watch. We’ve all always wondered what the extremely rich live like. Harry shows us their virtues and misdeeds.
The novel really remarks on the power of wealth and the wealthy’s ability to commit audacious crimes and pay for them to go away. Robert, as the patriarch of the family, is a prime example of such. As Harry begins to discover that Robert may be confessing to a series of murders on the cassette tape, she must decide how to proceed. She knows that the power that Robert holds cannot be taken lightly.
As Harry navigates potentially deadly Christmas traditions, she races for the truth, unable to forget once she finds it. Harry is such a compelling character – a developing mother willing to risk life and limb to protect her unborn baby. Harry is brave and unapologetic and is a true testament on how to write a female main character.
It was very difficult for me to decide between 4 and 5 Cthulus, so we will call it 4.5. This is a novel I highly recommend thriller lovers check out. (4.5 / 5)