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A complicated fever dream of a novella that follows McGlue as he’s arrested for the murder of his best friend in 1851. McGlue is a drunk and can’t even remember the night everyone is so concerned with.

“‘They want good meat on your bones before they eat you alive,’ says my lawyer later” (101).

I was skeptical of this novella. I don’t enjoy historical fiction and it felt a little Moby Dick at first. Man is on a ship at sea for quite a bit, contemplating all about his own life and ambitions/ what’s gone wrong for him. I had a hard time really getting into the style and the character development of the text until about halfway through, when McGlue is delivered to a prison holding cell. At that point, the style had started resonating with me and the characters were becoming more intricate, complicated, interesting. The second half of the novella gripped me strongly and wouldn’t let go. I was even starting to pick up on some really nuanced clues of plot in the writing. I read all of the second half in one sitting, where the first half didn’t grip me enough and I kept picking it up and putting it down.  

McGlue was the winner of the Fence Modern Prize in Prose
Pictured: Ottessa Moshfegh, photo from biography page

While not what we may immediately call horror, Moshfegh’s novella preys on the psychological terror genre and uses manipulation of memory and mind to unnerve the reader. McGlue is a tortured character that the reader is never quite sure about. Should I like him? Dislike him? Believe him? Want to throw him in jail like all the other characters? Living in McGlue’s thoughts is a psychological journey that even extends to the reader. You feel just as confused as McGlue does, all the way up to the ending. We live as McGlue, in Moshfegh’s words, and in the experience of being arrested in Salem of 1851. Living in the mind of someone accused of murder, tortured by the belief that he is not guilty, is a rough space to live in. Moshfegh brings it to life for us.

“Above the altar a wooden man hung magically bleeding, his head bowed and face hurt but not unhappy. That was God, they told me. But I knew that wasn’t God. I had the feeling, like alone on the road at night, that there was something watching me, something waiting for me to falter, something just hidden in the shadows waiting to pounce. That was God” (96).

There are so many super poignant quotes in this tiny text and some of the most subtle, nuanced writing I’ve ever come across. The “twist,” if you even want to call it that, was something I really started picking up on quite early, but it was so delicately weaved into the text that you may not even see it. This twist is so subtly woven through that the reader is simultaneously surprised and resolved on the last page.

This novella is hard to categorize in a genre. Penguin says that it is a literary fiction / crime mystery / historical fiction blend. I venture farther than that. McGlue is scary – psychological and unnerving. Horror can cross boundaries and genres, exactly as Moshfegh does here. If you don’t believe me, just wait until you reach the final page. The image captured in the last few lines is one I will not readily forget.

I started out really not enjoying this read, but as it progressed, I sank into the narrative and wandering nature of the prose. In the end, I felt overly compelled to give it five stars because of its complexity and beauty.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Sarah Moon is a stone-cold sorceress from Tennessee whose interests include serial killers, horror fiction, and the newest dystopian blockbuster. Sarah holds an M.A. in English Literature and an M.F.A. in Fiction Writing. She works as an English professor as well as a cemeterian. Sarah is most likely to cover horror in print including prose, poetry, and graphic forms.

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1 Comment

  1. kristincleaves

    March 28, 2020 at 8:14 pm

    I’ll have to check this out! I loved “Eileen” and “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” was interesting.

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Book Reviews

“The Writing Retreat” Gone Bad: Julia Bartz’s Debut

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Keeping it all in the family, Julia Bartz’s The Writing Retreat is the debut novel of the sister of Andrea Bartz, author of We Were Never Here, which I reviewed here.

I was much more impressed with The Writing Retreat than I was We Were Never Here.

The Plot

Five up and coming female writers under 30 are invited to a writing retreat hosted by the reclusive and acclaimed horror writer Rosa Vallo. Rosa reveals the details of the retreat: each writer must complete a full length novel from scratch over the next month. The best novel wins a multi-million dollar publishing deal with Rosa.

Suddenly, the retreat turns into a nightmare when one writer goes missing in the snowy terrain outside.

The novel hinges on friendships in turmoil and has a focus on LGBT+ representation as well as interpersonal female relationships. The novel explores the dark publishing world and the search for fame and the Great American Novel.

The Verdict

This novel is atmospheric and intellectual, page turning, and the English major’s required reading. I absorbed this novel and found Julia Bartz’s writing and conceptual chops to be leagues above her sister’s.

Ths novel releases on February 21, 2023 and it should be in your cart right now.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Buy it here!

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Book Reviews

A Murder in Reverse: “Wrong Place Wrong Time”

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The Plot

“A brilliantly genre-bending, mind-twisting answer to the question How far would you go to save your child?”  — Ruth Ware, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Jen watches her son murder a stranger. Stab him to death. She and her husband, Kelly, watch as their son Todd is taken into custody.

The next morning, Jen wakes up and it’s yesterday. Jen knows that at the end of the night, her son kills someone. She is determined to stop it.

Jen goes further and further back in time trying to discover why Todd murdered a stranger and how to stop it.

The Verdict

This book is twisty. Right when you think you know the ending, something else is there to prove that the story is more multifaceted than that. While the premise of the novel is simple, Gillian McAllister elevates a simple concept with deep, dark twists.

It is best that you don’t know too much going into this one. For fans of Blake Crouch, this is such a good thriller with time travelling vibes.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Book Reviews

Woom: An Extreme Horror Novel

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“That doesn’t invalidate it,” Angel said. “There’s no statute of limitations on pain.”

The Plot

Angel is a man who knows pain: physical, mental, sexual. The story begins with Angel visiting Room 6 at the Lonely Motel and ordering a plus-size sex worker to his room. What comes next is Angel’s retellings of painful stories while performing sexual acts on the sex worker, Shyla.

The novel reads as a book of short stories, as Angel relays stories to Shyla and she tells him stories back. This is a novel of pain and disgust. Angel’s stories are so dark and traumatic that Shyla can’t believe they are true. As Angel bares his soul, we see a side of him that is melancholy and unable to process hurt in a natural way.

The Verdict

This novel is full of disgusting visuals and isn’t afraid to get dirty. This truly is an extreme horror novel. As a warning, there is discussion of feces, blood, rape, sex, and body horror. This novel is not for the faint of heart. You’ll close this short novel feeling dirty. Angel is a character that begs for sympathy while his stories narrate that he may not be as innocent as he perceives.

When the subtitle says this novel is extreme horror, believe it. Only the strong will survive Duncan Ralston’s Woom. It is more splatterpunk than anything, but true literary quality lies beneath the filth.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Read it yourself by clicking below!

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