Epeolatry Book Review: Momma Durtt by Michael Shea

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Title: Momma Durtt: A Novel
Author: Michael Shea
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Hippocampus Press
Release Date: July, 2024

Synopsis: Something strange is going on at the Quicksilver Mine in central California. Dead bodies are being dumped there; strange sounds and smells are emanating from its black depths. As increasingly bizarre phenomena occur in the area around the mine, people begin to wonder if Nature itself has turned against humanity and is rebelling at the violation of its pristine beauty. And are some of those who work in the mine actively conspiring to bring about a cataclysm that will overwhelm the region and the Earth?

Michael Shea began writing Momma Durtt in 1986. A few years later, he entered the University of San Francisco, to secure a master’s degree in its writing program, and he completed this novel as his thesis. But Momma Durtt has lain unpublished ever since. Hippocampus Press is proud to present this novel of cosmic eco-horror from the pen of one of the masters of contemporary weird fiction. With vibrant characters, racy language, and a spectacular denouement, Momma Durtt is uniquely suited to our own times, when climate change is alerting us to the dangers of tampering with Nature.

As a bonus, “Momma Durtt” (novelette version) is included as an appendix.

Michael Shea (1946–2014) is the author of the Nifft the Lean series of fantasy novels, as well as many other novels and tales of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. The Autopsy: Best Weird Stories of Michael Shea was released by Hippocampus Press in 2022.

Momma Durtt contains a preface by author Michael Shea, who is preemptively responding to future critics of his novel.

As a reader, I, too, felt compelled to respond in a like manner to possible negative critiques, which, in Shea’s eye, are spawned by the “unpleasant physical details and harsh language” of his work. 

Some critics might tell themselves that’s why they feel uncomfortable and unsettled—because of the seemingly unredemptive crudity of the actions and words of the characters within these pages.

But, I think it’s because this book is subtly poking fun at the bumbling (and shortsighted) absurdity of patriarchy-steeped shenanigans of many of its characters.  No veneer is painted over these actions to make them even the slightest bit redeemable.

Momma Durtt’s character represents the story’s strong current of dark, viscous, seething feminism. She explodes onto the page with wonderfully imperfect charisma and unbridled-yet-ecstatic rage. And, it’s not just Momma Durtt holding a goddess’s power. Other women’s invasive presence moves throughout this book. Their insightful shrewdness enables them to come out on top, and the poisonous folly of people in general is shoved right back into their faces.

At times, the feminism is even more subtle but no less powerful in its impact. For example, the scene where truck driver Kim reflects on the overnight-stay “harborage”.  Kim feels safe because she is unseen and hidden, and said security is further illustrated by the appearance of the house owner’s cat. Yet four walls can’t keep the characters safe from Nature spewing out the contamination poured into her—proof that this hatred, at least, does not discriminate, and that no sacrifice is too great against the people who polluted her. 

Without giving away too much more of the tale, I love that the goddess’s wrath has as little bounds as those of people, because we’ve long surpassed the point of no return when it comes to our planet’s health.

This story left me wanting to commune with an all-powerful goddess, for better or for worse. I can’t escape from the painful awareness that we all have it coming to us for what we have done to Earth’s other life forms. 

In short, using a phrase borrowed from the late Michael Shea via his author’s preface, “tough titty” to us all.

P.S. I also adored the cover art!

/5

Available from Hippocampus Press.

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