Book Review: I Spit Myself Out by Tracy Fahey

“Reader be warned … These are no light tales, no easy reading. They are readable, incredibly so, but they will crush you. There are no easy answers or neat conclusions to these stories.”

 

I Spit Myself Out by Tracy Fahey - coverIn recent years, there has been a growing popularity in the horror and weird arena for stories that meld the literary and the grotesque. Stories that are unafraid to show the darkest aspects of the genre—and the most awe-inspiring—but which also mine themes of humanity—personal and otherwise—culture, society, and so on. Writers like Damien Angelica Walters, Priya Sharma, Laura Mauro, Georgina Bruce, Michael Griffin, Brian Evenson, Richard Gavin, Kristi DeMeester, Daniel Braum, Jo Kaplan, and many, many others. To these hallowed ranks, we can easily add Tracy Fahey. Exploding onto the scene with her first collection, The Unheimlich Manoeuvre (2016, Boo Books, reissued 2018 Sinister Horror Company (reviewed on this very site)), she showed she was a writer to be watched. And now, with her third collection, I Spit Myself Out, she builds on that already impressive debut.

In her introduction, Fahey sets out the overarching theme as Gothic body horror. And opening story ‘I’ll be Your Mirror’ embodies this. Museum installations, anatomy on display, insecurity, and self-conscious body imagery. All collide in a beautifully written story infused with anxiety. In ‘The Wrong Ones’, past shames come to light, domestic horrors which can exist in rural, isolated families. Grimly horrific in only a few short pages. ‘Becoming’ brings us the search for socially pressured perfection, for eternal youth. Experiments, a shady health spa, and the lengths we feel we must go to. Past trauma, unreliable memory, and a cautionary monster collide in ‘It Comes Up’. By now, Fahey’s talent for slipstream narrative and for creating disturbing, vibrant imagery with only a modicum of description. Mood, atmosphere, and tone abound powerfully in these tales.

‘I Write Your Name’ is a beautiful, heart-breaking end of the world scenario, filled with longing and melancholia. And ‘The Cure’ is the perfect follow-up, a timely story of a viral outbreak. It also examines hope, survival, faith, and desperation. ‘Ghost in the Machine’ tackles loss and family, in a ghost story that’s both poignant and chilling. The shackles of a religious upbringing and the will to be individual mesh in ‘I Kiss the Wounds’. The narrator is torn between the comfort of logic and the desire to please her parents. ‘The Girl Who Kissed the Dead’ is a story of abuse, a strange kind of vengeance, shot through with a kind of punk attitude. Despite its dark themes, it feels almost redemptive.

In ‘Sin Deep’, a woman wishes she could help her gravely ill sister, but the longing is futile. Unfolding like a fever dream, the shedding of skin could be a seen as an exchange, or as a retreat from human suffering. ‘Noli Me Tangere’ translates as ‘touch me not’. Another timely pandemic tale, it uses a sixteenth century list of teratology causes as headings. Pregnancy, panic, and domestic abuse infuse this nightmarish piece. Again, culturally induced pressures of image are refracted through a take on Stephen King’s Thinner, in ‘Reducing’. But Fahey has much more to say than King’s sardonic modern fairy tale. She uses the story to examine superficiality, the fickleness of some friends, and the sheer horror of something self-induced. ‘Inside Out’ is either a personal haunting or a manifestation of guilt, accusation. Gothic and oppressive. Using diabetes as a jumping off point, ‘Love Like Blood’ moves through modern goth culture and vampirism in a coming-of-age story. But like the few other things here that might feel familiar, it cofounds expectation.

‘The House Under the House’ is like the anti-Room. An unreliable narrator who may well be a monster, locked in a room at the bottom of their house. This one starts dark, then gets darker. ‘Metamorphosis’ describes a terrible tale of abuse, mixing it with passages ruminating on caterpillars transforming into butterflies. As fragile as the insect’s wings, this one unfolds like a terrible dream, hinting at awful events. Possibly the most accurate representation of depression in fiction, ‘The Woman in the Moon’ is another story dealing with abuse and PTSD. It also invents its own mythology, one which feels as if it has always existed. Finally, we come to the title story, ‘I Spit myself Out’. Trauma, more trauma, and a trip to mental health facility. This story acts as both bookend to and encapsulates the collection entire, but it’s also a fine piece in its own right. And, like many of those before it, it unfolds like a dark dream.

It’s obvious that in just a few short years, Tracy Fahey’s skills and abilities have increased and grown. And being she was a master craftsperson to start with, that’s high praise indeed. The prose is poetic and lyrical, yet never loses clarity, whether it’s delivering grounded scenarios or more dreamlike imagery. And what imagery. In only a few sharp sentences, Fahey conveys more emotion than many writers manage with reams and reams of writing. Reader be warned, though. These are no light tales, no easy reading. They are readable, incredibly so, but they will crush you. There are no easy answers or neat conclusions to these stories. They are most concerned with delivering emotion and atmosphere, and that they do in spades. They will bludgeon you with their weight. And isn’t that what horror is really all about? You will love them for it because they are just so beautifully constructed. And like most truly beautiful things, they are soul-destroying.

Fahey easily fulfills the promise of her earlier work, and then some. Her name more than deserves to be included in any list of the best horror writers. And if you’re unfamiliar, you are in for a treat. Get her books now and be amazed.

PAUL MICHAELS

Publisher: Sinister Horror Company.
Paperback: 330 (ppa.)
Release Date: 13 February 2021.

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