Epeolatry Book Review: Femina by Caitlin Marceau
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Author: Caitlin Marceau
Publisher: Dark Lit Press
Genre: Horror, Short stories, Contemporary fiction, LGBTQIA+
Release Date: 2nd December, 2022
Synopsis: FEMINA: A Collection of Dark Fiction explores the horror of womanhood. Or, more accurately, the horror of gender norms and societal expectations placed on women. This book delves into themes of identity, motherhood, sexuality, and isolation. A mix of Kristen Roupenian’s “Cat Person and Other Stories” and Carmen Maria Machado’s “Her Body and Other Parties: Stories”, this collection is a blend of psychological, supernatural, and body horror. FEMINA looks at the horror of being a woman in a man’s world.
Exploring societal, bodily, and maternal fears of unsupported womanhood, Marceau’s collection is metaphorically and literally gutting. Ugly and poignant motifs weave entangling roots between the vignettes, clutching close what connects women living in a patriarchy, even in their isolation. Poems and flash fiction reprise the stories they follow; stories echo those that have come before. Doppelgangers haunt and plead with each other, male partners and doctors gaslight and coerce, heroines both protect and sabotage their own bodies.
Marceau offers pieces grounded in reality such as ‘Gastric’ and ‘Blood and Coffee’. There are supernatural wanderings in ‘Llanwey Point’, ‘The Only Thing to Fear’, and ‘Everything She’s Been Looking For’; sci-fi encroachments in ‘Splinter’; even the hope of romance blooms in soft, sapphic witchcraft of ‘Everything She’s Been Looking For’. Just when you forget you’re reading horror and start to imagine the creative ways the magical scene could unfold, it stabs you and rips your heart out.
While most of the pieces feel distinctly modern, there is one outlier in a fairytale called ‘Broken’; a tragic love triangle plays out to a bitter end with no relief in sight. Another break from trend comes from the other end of the scale; an acknowledgement of our technologically advanced times in the form of ‘Raw Footage from the Cushing’s Mall’. The transcript format allows for more space on the page, more dialogue, and a reinforcement that, yes even in the age of the internet, we can still find ourselves confused and helpless – something a lot of horror simply avoids for fear of the rhetorical “Why didn’t they just call someone?” when the story unravels at the first challenge. It makes for a breath of fresh air amongst these stories that can get quite – deliberately – suffocating, although we are still party to a familiar toxic love triangle. (Is it a triangle if there are six or more of you?)
These plot-based stories, with functional prose and character voices, could do with more solidity. This takes no hard toll on the impact of the revelations, though, which will leave you gasping for air. While it’s fairly long as a whole, and the shorter works feel somewhat extraneous, the lingering connection between pieces adds an extra layer of gratification to the reading experience. Brief content warnings can be found in the back of the book for two of the more explicit encounters, but these are by no means comprehensive.
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