(Editor’s note: DOUBLE FEATURE is a column where I read at least two horror books per month in 2020 and review them for my website.)
To Be Devoured
Released in July 2019, To Be Devoured by Sara Tantlinger earned a Bram Stoker Award nomination for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction and won Best Novella at the Ladies of Horror Fiction Awards. It probably deserved a Splatterpunk Award nomination, too. Bold, disturbing, and shocking, To Be Devoured is told in first person by Andi, a mentally ill woman in a relationship with her girlfriend Luna. We meet Andi on the day she visits her new therapist. We soon learn about Andi’s family history and tragic past, and I immediately developed sympathy for her character. Tantlinger skillfully employs the vivid imagery of moths and vultures to convey themes of transformation and hunger. Dropping subtle breadcrumbs along the way, Tantlinger lets her unreliable narrator Andi lure the reader into a trap – a beautiful, horrific trap. When the climax takes flight, To Be Devoured sheds its psychological horror skin and morphs into a twisted nightmare of obsession. Masterfully written, To Be Devoured is a gutsy, go-for-broke novella that deserves its accolades as one of the best horror fiction releases of 2019.
Wither and Other Stories
Another female horror author making a splash with her work in 2019, Sonora Taylor dominated the inaugural Ladies of Horror Fiction Awards, winning two major categories for Best Novel and Best Collection and receiving a pair of honorable mentions for her short fiction. I decided to introduce myself to Taylor’s tales by reading her 2018 short story collection, Wither and Other Stories. In all four selections, including two flash fiction pieces, Taylor effectively delves into the emotional states of her characters and explores notions of home as a safe place from the world outside. The title story “Wither” follows a starving young girl named Katie as she slowly loses faith in her parents. In “Nesting,” the main character stays at home during a pandemic, waiting for the disease to run its course. “Smoke Circles” is a snapshot of loneliness as the main character returns home after enjoying a campfire party. My favorite story in the collection, “We Really Shouldn’t,” begins as a chance encounter at a coffee shop between two ex-lovers, Kelly and Josh. Kelly resists the urge to reconnect but remains attracted to Josh. Playing on the reader’s assumptions, Taylor expertly shifts from the melodramatic to the morbid, finishing her collection with a memorable cinematic horror moment.
September’s DOUBLE FEATURE: Hades’ Gate by D.J. Doyle and Dead End by Mallory Kelly.