Epeolatry Book Review: Dehiscent by Ashley Deng
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Author: Ashley Deng
Genre: Eco-horror, Sporror, Gothic
Publisher: Tenebrous Press
Release date: August 1, 2023
Page count: 92
Synopsis: As the world’s climate swings rapidly between oppressively hot and freezing cold, the remnants of civilization huddle in small communities to scrape together what they can to survive.
All except the Zhu family.
Yi has lived in her ancestral house her entire life, sheltered and safe from the scarcity that plagues her community. Her family enjoys a secret life of running water, electricity, and an abundance of food.
But as Yi seeks a way to share their fortune, she learns the terrible secret of the Zhu house.
DEHISCENT is an Eco-Horror tale of a future that has practically arrived, and the humanity that lurks in the most inhuman of places.
Dehiscent is a quietly-told debut novella from Ashley Deng, set in a post-climate-crisis dystopia and laced with elements of the Gothic, haunted house stories and sporror.
Laying out two meanings of its title in the opening – plants splitting across structural lines of weakness to release their contents for distribution; wounds splitting along their lines of healing – the story delivers on these promises. Yi reckons with her family’s legacy via the satisfying gothic trope of an ominous attic. The house and the weather take on anthropomorphic, antagonistic qualities, bearing over Yi’s existence with the power to nurture or waste. Yi faces a turning point and an important decision that might change the course of events for her family, the village, and humanity.
The world of Dehiscent is recognisable in both its physical devastation and its division of privilege. The presence of death is felt throughout; in the alternating lethargy of unbearable heat and fury of torrential storms, and in the desolate remains of landscape and architecture.
Despite some chilling imagery, the prose feels aimed at a younger audience in tone and perspective. This doesn’t quite sit right with the reveal of the family’s secret, which is amply horrifying, albeit easily anticipated and seemingly accidental in the casualness of its delivery. The prose as a whole could be tighter and more impactful as a short story with a more succinct focus.
There are some powerful images – you can feel the potential in the ideas – but they don’t quite land in the moment. The house’s floral habits, the discovery, the act of hope that overturns everything Yi knows about her world. (Apparently no relatives have pursued this curiosity before, in all their generations plagued by the climate apocalypse?) I would have loved to see more of its strongest moments – her father’s and grandfather’s inhospitable dismissal of a fellow scavenger, pushed back into torrential rain so as to guard the secret of the house – or some development of the loosely woven threads of Yi’s personal journey, such as her school friendships. Beyond the intriguing concept, there is something simple about this story that left me yearning for more depth, detail and consideration.
You might like this if you enjoyed Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, but wished for less invasiveness and viscerality.
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