Things Withered - Susie Moloney

With book in hand, readers will know this is a collection of short fiction marketed as horror stories.

 

But that's a broad stroke; Dracula and The Stand are both frightening tales.

 

In the hands of Susie Moloney, a horror story sometimes means gruesome and moist: 

"Brains and cranial fluid seeped from [her] head onto the leaves, her body torpid, flesh pallid and as cool as the ground cover. Just faintly she could smell the moss under her rotting, ending self."

 

And sometimes it means highly emotive and conflict-ridden: 

"Oddly, most of the neighbours who had kept me on Burlington for so long were now dead or had moved away. Except for Hazel, whom at the moment I realized I truly hated, and who was standing in the middle of her lawn with a shovel raised about waist level, shaking it at Josie Tubman’s granddaughter, the one with the unusual name."

 

But more often it means a subtle-sort-of-twisted, in an everyday-kinda-way: 

"I’ve always thought there was a great deal of potential for unwholesomeness in isolated relationships, particularly duos."

And on occasion it means a whole-lot-of-normal, over-and-above the usual amount: 

"No girlfriends, no boyfriends, no arrests, no weird obsessions, nothing that he could even be pitied for; there was just nothing— That they knew of. He was perfectly normal. He was normal, and quiet. Pleasant. The sort of fella the neighbours all liked." 

 

Because sometimes normal is unsettling: 

"His voice was affable, something she’d only read about and that filled her with suspicion."

Sad, even: 

"The store was shabby, with a fine and invisible layer of failure over everything." (But never boring. Even though there is often talk of workplaces, uncommon in fiction: a pleasant surprise.)

 

Susie Moloney's stories are about the ordinary feelings with which all readers will be familiar. Like guilt and doubt. And, yes, fear.

 

"You didn’t kill them. They died. You found them. It happens all the time.” She sat down beside him. He could tell by her face that she wasn’t sure that was true."

 

But she expresses these ordinary feelings in a sharp and memorable (sometimes chuckle-provoking) way.

 

"She had been prepared for the guilt. The guilt was something she had simply learned to live with, now, and she barely felt it. It was like having bunions and faking orgasms. How long could she do it? Forever."

 

Even a character sketch or detail can contain a figurative gem:

"I am five feet, two inches tall, and weight had seemed to arrive out of nowhere and stick to me like scandal."

 

And there needn't be talk of cranial fluid to evoke a mood: 

"The night had been breezeless, the moon reflecting off the water in little white lashes, like the flick of a cat’s tail, there, then gone. The water lapped against the rocks in little gasping breaths."

 

(The quotes here are drawn from nine different stories, but remain unidentified to avoid spoilers.)

 

Characters worry about making their sales quotas and about not getting caught. They worry about weight-gain and the blood on their clothing. They worry about feeling so restless that they are overcome and about being immobilized and ovetaken. They approach the edge slowly at times and, at other times, throw themselves into the breach.

 

Taxes and crones, sunsets and beaches: some readers will find these the most horrifying kinds of stories, because it's not hard to imagine oneself into the stuff of their making.

 

Table of Contents: Introduction (Kaaron Warren); The Windemere; Truckdriver; Wife; Poor David, Or, The Possibility of Coincidence in Situations of Multiple Occurrences; The Last Living Summer; The Audit; Petty Zoo; Night Beach; The Human Society; Reclamation on the Forest Floor; Domestic Happiness; I <3 Dogs; The Neighbourhood, or, To the Devil with You; Appendix: The Suburbanight

This review originally appeared on Buried.In.Print.