Book Review: Cry Your Way Home by Damien Angelica Walters

“Tackling the ‘difficult second album’, Walters gives us a collection which builds on the talent and imagination she brought to Sing Me Your Scars, reaching further in scope, voice, and technique.”

 

One of the most exciting and talented of the most recent crop of horror and weird writers is Damien Angelica Walters. For a few years, now, she has been steadily and determinedly producing some of the most affecting, emotional, and devastating fiction to appear in print, with publication credits in a variety of places including Apex, The Dark, Black Static, and many more. Following up her outstanding first collection, Sing Me Your Scars, and her first novel proper under her own name, Paper Tigers, she now releases her second collection of short stories, Cry your Way Home.

Opening with ‘Tongue, Tooth, and Claw’, we are presented with a version of the old fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast, coupled with the fantasy notion of sacrificing a daughter of the village to appease the monster. Threaded through this beautiful, melancholic tale is a seam of female agency and determination, a will which will not accept the role society has conferred on her. A wonderful, dialogue-free opener and an indication of the themes to come. ‘Deep Within the Marrow, Hidden in My Smile’ is a haunting and gorgeous piece about two young girls who become step-sisters when their respective widowed parents marry. The story unfolds with languid yet purposeful and poetic prose, the gradually increasing—yet not outright—hostility faced by the young narrator from her reluctant step-sibling underpinned by flashes of the weird, by a heartfelt confusion, even by a measure of the melancholic.

‘On the Other Side of the Door, Everything Changes’ is utterly and completely heart-breaking. To tell much more would rob the reader of its power but suffice to say it is a story of human cruelty; the awful, crushing power which hopelessness can hold over us, and the tragedy of missing that one thing which might save us. A deeply poetic sensibility infuses ‘This is the Way I Die’, the subtle, Gothic imagery, perhaps a metaphor for the healing power of love and compassion, and the strength which comes from knowing when to let someone go.

One of the longer stories in the collection, ‘The Hands That Hold, the Lies That Bind’ pulls the reader along with its mounting central mystery. Though the strongest message could be one of “mother knows best”, it might also be read as a caution against keeping things from children for fear they cannot handle it. Dark and strange and weird, and also wonderful. ‘Not my Circus, Not My Monkeys: The Elephant’s Tale’ is a poetic and metaphorical meditation on the strictures we are bound by in life; and the arduous and painful toll it takes to try and break free from these shackles. In ‘The Judas Child’, we have what seems like a straightforward monster/horror story, but Walters imbues it with such a sense of human sorrow and dread—with subtle, telling detail—it is elevated beyond its simple premise.

Taking on the oversaturated superhero genre, ‘S Is for Soliloquy’ presents a second person monologue from one lover to another which slowly reveals the world they exist in. It’s gorgeous and quietly heart-breaking, and also immense fun, hinting at a wider ‘mythology’. Heartbreak of a different kind infuses every line of ‘The Floating Girls: A Documentary’. Its multiple narratives and semi-fractured structure help to give body to its strange, central premise, and the confessional of the narrator tethers the story with deeply affecting emotion. Effortless and powerful, a real powerhouse of a story. ‘Take a Walk in the Night, My Love’ begins as a possible insight into dementia, with an intriguing and compelling second person narrative. It twists and mutates as it progresses into an almost psychological thriller, before closing with more than a hint of ambiguous emotion. A short which manages to do more than most novels can.

More emotion, more tragedy, in ‘Falling Under, Through the Dark’, in which a mother suffers unique panic attacks in the wake of her toddler son’s drowning. Tight, incisive prose, and a clarity of images make for an assured piece which builds to a melancholic climax. In ‘The Serial Killer’s Astronaut Daughter’, there are feminist overtones, a space station engineer who finds out the man who sired her is a serial killer, and a ton of Alien/Aliens quotes. Perhaps not as emotional or affecting as other stories in the collection, it nevertheless develops its themes and ideas through an interesting narrative and a sympathetic protagonist. ‘Umbilicus’ shows us a mother’s grief as she tries to deal with the drowning of her seven-year-old daughter, and visions of a possible massive underwater creature on that night. Her daughter’s disembodied voice, and hallucinations—or not—of water and pregnancy lead her to a terrifying discovery and a frightening hope; for which she may pay a terrible price. Intelligent horror shot through with real humanity.

Reworking and referencing just about every classic fairy tale, ‘A Lie You Give, and Thus I Take’ creates something new, which is as much about the lies and deceits some men use to ensnare women as it is about its wondrous fantasy world. ‘Little Girl Blue, Come Cry Your Way Home’ presents a domestic situation which begins to fray due to the couple’s newborn’s incessant crying. Vague suspicions of the father lead to a shocking revelation, and an absolutely chilling finale. Walters crafts this ultimate Weird tale with consummate ease, making it all seem so easy, so casual. In a lesser writer’s hands, it would be all about the strange concept; here, it is about marital secrets, suspicion and paranoia, all of it bubbling beneath the narrative. Truly wonderful. In ‘Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice’, we are presented with a teenage girl’s interview as evidence of the mean, spiteful behaviour which often infests high school. Taking its cues from the story of Frankenstein, it is the ultimate in unreliable narration, causing us to reassess all that’s gone before with its final lines.

Saving perhaps the best for last—though it’s difficult to make that judgement in a book full of gems—is ‘In the Spaces Where You Once Lived’. A story which mixes the tragedy of dementia with a terrifying, original aspect of cosmic horror, it is at once heartbreaking and terrible, the awful human despair of Alzheimer’s coupled with the alien, cold dread of vast, sanity-shattering space (and what exists between the spaces). A powerful piece with which to close the collection.

Tackling the ‘difficult second album’, Walters gives us a collection which builds on the talent and imagination she brought to Sing Me Your Scars, reaching further in scope, voice, and technique. This is a truly fantastic snapshot of a writer who only seems to get better and better, and considering the skill and ability evident at the start, we can only wonder at what might come next. Any reader who considers themselves an aficionado of serious, quiet horror—subtle, dark, weird, emotive and emotional—cannot be without this book. Any writer who aspires to a similar style would do best to absorb its poetic prose, its endless imaginings, its deft hand. An absolutely perfect collection of short stories.

PAUL MICHAELS

Publisher: Apex Publications.
Paperback: (240pp)
Release Date: 2 January 2018

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1 comment

  1. is there a place for literary horror?

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