This is a reprint of the Books essay from Issue #56 of Exploits, our collaborative cultural diary in magazine form. If you like what you see, buy it now for $2, or subscribe to never miss an issue (note: Exploits is always free for subscribers of Unwinnable Monthly).
There’s something about a collection of short horror stories that can’t be replicated in other genres: sublime imagery with terrifying results in tight bursts. Les Femmes Grotesques, Victoria Dalpe’s newest collection of horror shorts, follows this tradition, offering up visions of the weird and the terrifying that will linger in your head long after you’re done reading. Non-euclidean houses stretch beyond their walls and deep underground tunnels open with a flourish, exposing the vast, aching beyond.
Dalpe dextrously mixes truly short stories with longer more robust pieces exploring the connections between the monstrous and the feminine. The stories often feature female protagonists, and those that don’t, belay the fears of the feminine through the man’s eyes. An undead deity prowls coffee shops in hopes of finding a date but finds only cultists, a swamp hag preys on unsuspecting visitors, a young girl is visited by an unexpectedly verdant seducer. The stories are full of sex, insanity, violence, and magic, offering lifelike characters blended with cosmic nightmares.
These figures most often live on the edge of the normal, on the outskirts of town or in between the animal and human. Like all great feminist literature, Dalpe’s newest accentuates the liminal, that space between life and death, civilization and chaos. That terrifying liminality that often defines the feminine somewhere between the madonna and the whore, and Dalpe revels in the complexities therein. Her prose thrives on descriptions of ancient monsters lurking in the corners of the contemporary malaise, connecting the now with the occultish past.
By the end of Les Femme Grotesques, Dalpe has left the reader with a stable of stories that feels lively and contemporary. Along with folks like Paul Tremblay, Laird Barron, and our own Orrin Gray, Dalpe is bringing a fresh take on horror, embedding classic tropes in new frameworks and offering a fantastic approach to the classic short story form.