Book Review: The Writhing Skies by Betty Rocksteady

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I had no idea what Betty Rocksteady’s The Writhing Skies was about going into it, and I was surprised, disturbed, and unexpectedly delighted. Here is my spoiler-free review.

This book is a sort of sci-fi body-horror mash-up. You could also make a case for classifying this as “cosmic sex horror.” Whatever you call it: I am here for it. To be honest, body horror is not usually my thing. I have a high tolerance for gross and weird, but in terms of preference, I like my horror to be more about mood, character, and emotion rather than blood and guts.

That said, this book works because, for one, it has mood and character and emotion. And the body horror? Well let me just say, it’s not exactly what you would expect. It’s such a strange and weird and bizarre and “cosmic” take on the whole idea of body horror that it’s part of what makes this book so good.

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It’s so gross and slimy, and as the story progresses you wonder how some of these characters are still alive, with everything happening to them. But, you get the sense that the only way to stop it is to keep moving, to push forward. And I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that there are aliens, but they are also...not what you would expect. The aliens are really something Other, something so utterly not-human that I’m in awe of Rocksteady’s imagination. There is also a surprising sexiness to the body-horror that is...unexpected. It’s all just so skillfully done.

In terms of story, the pace moves. The characters feel real and the emotional core drives the plot. I would maybe suggest a trigger warning in terms of the trauma that the protagonist experiences near the end of the book. It is heartbreaking and explains so much of how these characters even ended up in this situation to begin with.

This isn’t the “type” of horror that I usually read, but I am so glad I did. It’s the heart and the emotion that sold me on the rest of it. It’s done in such a skillful, beautiful way that it just works for me. I recommend that you give it a chance!

On November 26, tune in for episode 25 of Ladies of the Fright podcast. We’ll be in coversation with Betty Rocksteady on the show!

Photo by JR Korpa on Unsplash

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LOTF Episode Schedule for the Rest of 2018

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It’s hard to believe that Ladies of the Fright podcast is approaching its first birthday! Okay, so I know that we still have a little ways to go before February. But, still. Mackenzie and I are ridiculously proud of this passion project of ours. When we first envisioned LOTF, we just wanted to have some fun sharing our love of the horror genre. We always hoped that people would enjoy our efforts, but we couldn’t have ever anticipated such a warm reception. The community we’ve created in our little corner of the universe is so special to us, and we’re looking forward to lots of exciting things in year two.

Until then, we still have the rest of the year! We have quite a line up, and we can’t wait to bring these discussions to your ears. Many of our listeners have requested a preview of what’s to come so they can read along with the show. Here’s our podcast* episode schedule for the rest of the year. We’ve made it our goal to keep you all informed from here on out, so you can keep up with our spooky book club!

October 2018

November 2018

December 2018 (exact dates not yet determined)

Photo by Marten Newhall on Unsplash

*schedule subject to change

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Mirrors Don't Always Show You the Truth

 photo by Nathan Fernig

photo by Nathan Fernig

Mirrors don’t always show you the truth.

Elizabeth by Ken Greenhall has two possible reflections to consider.

Lisa and I chose this book because it, as we say in the podcast, is a relic of something that could have been. According to Stephen Graham Jones, instead of Beautiful Horror being a sub genre, it could have been the genre, should Shirley Jackson and Ken Greenhall have built the foundation rather than Stephen King. Now, Beautiful Horror may be locked in its place as a sub genre, but Ken Greenhall still manages to do something different that stretches visceral, Beautiful Horror to its limits.

What makes Elizabeth so special? Greenhall sets the book up not only to define the character, but the reader as well.

There are two ways you can read this book.

On one side, Elizabeth is a fourteen-year-old girl who is at the mercy of a hostile, despicable family. She develops peculiar coping mechanisms to survive. She has a bleak out-look on society. She is, for all intents and purposes, experiencing trauma, is the victim of abuse. Her Uncle—whom she’s had a sexual relationship with since she was thirteen—kills her parents so she can become his adopted daughter. The horror of this book is being behind the eyes and owning the voice of someone suffering abuse. It isn’t until the end of the book that the reader begins to realize that they have read the book as someone who is traumatized and experienced exactly what a brain is capable of doing to protect itself.

The brain will protect itself from abuse by hallucinating, projecting, and assuring the body that it is not the victim. It’s in control. Elizabeth tells us in the beginning of the book that she is not a child. She tells us she is okay with what is happening. That she is in control. This admonition allows the reader to follow her and trust that she doesn’t need our help or our empathy. She’s just fine and we needn’t worry about her. Even though we do. We worry for her soul. For her fourteen-year-old self.

Or.

Or that’s false and she’s actually evil and a witch-in-training and is controlling everyone like a puppet master.

 photo by Jack Hamilton

photo by Jack Hamilton

Elizabeth collects slippery, crawly critters and hugs them to the bare flesh of her chest. She regards her parents and family for exactly who they are. Ugly and human. Elizabeth doesn’t feel something like love, doesn’t let that get in the way. In fact, it can be argued she only truly feels love and abandonment at the end for Frances, her witch teacher that lives in mirrors. 

Perhaps it has to tie back to the mirror. She does say early in the beginning that what she sees in the mirror isn’t really there. It isn’t really her.

So, who is Elizabeth, exactly? It’s up for you. Look and see.

This little book is pregnant with content, beautiful and somehow, a slow burn. There isn’t a wasted line or even a wasted word in this book. Elizabeth is an unsung classic worthy of any and all praise coming its way. Pick up a copy and listen in as Lisa, Stephen and I dissect this book, try to see its insides.

 

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