Undertow. May 2022. 94p. ISBN 9781988964386. pap. $11.99. HORROR
In this grotesquely beautiful, deeply unsettling, and utterly beguiling Kafkaesque novella, Ruthnum (A Hero of Our Time) introduces readers to Louise, a nurse in 1900 New York City, caring for her husband, Edward. Edward is a doctor who is dying painfully, his body literally dissolving piece by piece, as they prepare to relocate to Edward’s family’s orchard in Buffalo, where he wants to die peacefully. Edward’s numerous dalliances lead many to believe he has syphilis, but early on, it is made clear his suffering comes from something bigger than a bacterium. What exactly it is, however, is for Louise, Edward, and readers to discover. This magnificent novella draws readers in immediately and then holds their emotions hostage as they watch the story transform from a tale of illness and death into one of otherworldly beauty, with just the right amount of darkness hiding in the wings. This uncanny and disquieting story has a perfect title, since “helpmeet” is a historical term for a helpful companion, a definition Ruthnum twists in an unexpected way. The complex feelings induced by the work will remind readers of Stephen Graham Jones’s Mapping the Interior, any Helen Oyeyemi tale, or We Can Never Leave This Place by Eric LaRocca.
VERDICT A reading experience that will linger long after the final page is turned.
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