Shirley Jackson’s work is disguised in the trappings of genre fiction, particularly horror and thrillers. What she really does is use the tropes of horror to create complex psychological character studies. The 2018 adaptation of We Have Always Lived in the Castle is refreshingly true to the thematic concerns of the novel upon which it is based. Set in the 1960s, the two Blackwood sisters live apart from the town over which their decaying mansion casts a shadow. Both are living sequestered away due to the scandalous murder of the Blackwood patriarch and his wife—they were poisoned with arsenic. Constance (Alexandra D’Addario) was acquitted but the town folk believe that one of the two sisters is guilty of the crime. Mary Katherine or Merricat (Taissa Farmiga) bears the brunt of the town’s abusive gossip when she visits for supplies. Merricat, who is portrayed as possibly on the spectrum by Farmiga, is a misanthropic loner who does arcane witchcraft-inspired rituals to protect the surviving members of her family, which include Constance and dementia-affected Uncle Julian (Crispin Glover). Merricat buries dolls, coins and books on the manse’s overgrown grounds and casts curses on those people who are cruel to her. Constance stays in the house, where she cooks and cleans with an almost Stepford Wife devotion. The three members of the family all assiduously talk around the fatal events of the poisoning and the subsequent trial. Merricat believes that her spells are working until cousin Charles shows up out of nowhere, with an unclear agenda. Constance, who’s played as a wide-eyed, innocent ingenue by D’Addario, is charmed by Charles. Sebastian Stan’s portrayal is appropriately slick and two-faced. He’s frustrated that he can’t charm the taciturn Merricat like he can her sister. (Uncle Julian believes that Charles is his brother, and Glover gives the befuddled character a quiet dignity). Inevitably, the battle for Constance’s affection yields disastrous results. There are a lot of thematics at work here. There’s Jackson’s preoccupation with group hysteria, and the role of misfit women in a strictly patriarchal society alongside an exploration of trauma and the loss of innocence. I enjoyed the look of the film, with is period Popoluxe aesthetic, and it captured the delicate balance of black comedy, social satire and dark group dynamics that was in the book.
The new issue of Baffling Magazine is now out!
Featuring stories by:
M. L. Krishnan
dave ring and Gabriella Etoniru did the heavy lifting for this issue, due to my unfortunate experience with COVID-19.
The strength of female friendship and the brutality of colonization are the central themes to the magical animated film Wolfwalkers. Robyn and her father move to Ireland as part of an English lord’s campaign to “tame” the land around an Irish village. Robyn’s father is a professional hunter who has been tasked with exterminating the extremely active wolf packs around the town. The Irish folk have an uneasy truce with the wolves, due to traditional folkloric beliefs. The religious zealot English lord dismisses these beliefs as pagan superstition, and sees the wolf extermination as an angle to Christianize the population. Robyn, a “high-spirited” girl, is an outsider in the town, and disobeys her father by following him on his trap setting missions. While silently tracking her dad, she encounters the magical and mischievous Mebh, a near feral wolf-girl and discovers the secret existence of wolfwalkers, a race of shapeshifting beings who can astral project their souls into wolf-form. They control the pack and also have the power to heal. The two girls become fast friends, and Robyn assists Mebh in searching for her mother, whose wolf-form has been separated from her sleeping body for some time. The animation is lovely, with backgrounds that look like living paintings. Mebh is depicted as a red-haired, big eyed ball of energy that it’s a pleasure to watch flow across the screen. The voice acting is bright and on point, with a multiplicity of accented English. I was especially impressed with the sophisticated depiction of colonialism and religious zealotry.
The thirteenth Autumn’s Grey Solace is a return to form. After a few albums that eschewed words and flirted with post-rock, the new album (simply called XIII) is firmly in the ethereal shoegaze mold, with lyrics and recognizable song structures. As a result, singer Erin Welton’s high-pitched, almost classical vocal acrobatics take center stage. The otherworldly melodies she sings are more about the coloratura origami she shapes than straight forward narrative communication, but the songs are full of emotion. Elizabeth Fraser/Cocteau Twins are a referent but AGS has developed its own unique take on the fragile formula. XIII is a wistful, blissful album and a great introduction to their prolific almost 20 year career.
Sound samples: https://youtu.be/StvqgmTM5pM
Corey Farrenkopf, the director of Cape Cod’s Sturgis Library has made the conversation and reading event with P. Djeli Clark and myself available on YouTube. Clark read a section from his award-winning story The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington. I read from A Spectral Hue. Then we took audience questions.
Thanks again to Farrenkopf and the library for hosting the event, and to the audience members!
You can hear me read with Alexander Danner on Story Hour below. I read the entirety of my story “Come Join We” from my collection Sea, Swallow Me & Other Stories. Thanks to Story Hour for having me on again. I read in support of SMYAL (Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League), a DC-based queer youth group I joined back in the day.
The eBook version of my Come Join Us by the Fire short story Spyder Threads is now available for 0.99 cents in all eBook formats. Thanks for reading and/or listening to this tale of drag ball culture and body horror!
New story up on Broken Eye Books—Patreon-Locked
My Brazilian fantasy story “Sacred She-Devil” will be printed in the forthcoming Broken Eye Books anthology Whether Change: The Revolution Will Be Weird.
Patreon subscriptions of Broken Eye Books can read the story now!
Happy Black History Month! Many years ago I wrote my Harlem Renaissance story, “Conjuring Shadows,” to celebrate the movement and shine a light on the queer subculture surrounding that surrounded it. It’s still free to read at Expanded Horizons!