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