Lucy brought her fists up, ready to pound again, but stopped herself when her eyes fell upon the outside world.Jess Landry, “Echoes,” THE MOTHER WOUND
Or, where the outside world should’ve been.
There were no lights, no trees, no streets. It looked as though someone had plastered the windows in tar, allowing absolutely nothing to penetrate the obsidian darkness that looked back at her.
The outside world was gone.
A persistent feeling I’ve had over the last fifteen months was that I was going in circles. Without a customary structure to my day, with the kids trying to do school from home, with us not being able to go anywhere, it all felt like an eerie sameness. All my striving was a chasing after some former self, an elusive remnant of normality. Jess Landry captures that feeling in her story “Echoes” which appears in her debut collection, THE MOTHER WOUND, published by Independent Legions Publishing. I am grateful to Jess for providing me with a free e-ARC in exchange for this honest review.
“Echoes” begins with a thump. That is not only the sound at the beginning, but the literal first word of the story. And it’s more important than you think. This is a very tough story to review with any justice without going into spoilers (even from a craft perspective), so at some point I will insert a “read more” break for those who wish to avoid spoilers. If that’s you, I understand, so here’s the tl;dr — this is a brilliantly crafted ghost story that, while it treads haunted ground we’ve all trod before, it does so in a fresh way that sets up and then shatters readers’ expectations. Lovecraftian elements are non-existent (I was told about that in advance), but there is a cosmic sense about the story particularly as it relates to the setting.
Because I need to go at this in a slightly backward way, let’s talk a bit about the writing first. Landry shows herself to be a évocateur extraordinaire. Her lush descriptions of a haunted Victorian mansion are so precisely composed that I didn’t just feel like I was in this house. I closed my eyes and I was in this house with “…her light step barely creaking against the carpeted wood underneath. The sconces cast their sickly yellow hue on everything on this floor as well, nearly making it seem like an unnatural daylight had pierced the walls and was shining through.” I’ve lived in a home like that, with long, runner carpets accenting hard wood floors and wall sconces (sadly in my case electric not gas) flickering that yellow hue every time the AC kicked on. For a moment, I was back there. But Landry wasn’t done and next we went to a room I likewise had no trouble picturing: “a bedroom with a four-post bed, long undisturbed given the yellow-stained sheets, a large wardrobe that reminded her of the doorway to Aslan’s world, and a desk tucked away in the corner with an old typewriter resting on top, a single sheet of paper sprouting from its mouth.” I love the way she so richly transported me into this house. It made me forget that I was reading and that is real skill. The writing is accessible, too, neither laden with florid flourishes, nor so spare as to leave you guessing what the feel of the place might be. This made it particularly jarring though when there was a turn of phrase or a sentence constructed so that it took me right out of the story. At one point, for example, the main character, Lucy, “squatted herself.” Perhaps it’s just me, but I felt like there had to be a better way to convey that idea. There were a few other times when it happened as well. It’s odd, in a story otherwise so expertly crafted, to encounter constructions that rip me from the pages.
I want to turn now to the plot and the craft of Landry’s structure but I can’t do that effectively without spoiling plot, so if you do not wish to have this creepy little treat spoiled, DON’T FOLLOW HER!
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