Title: The Atrocities
Author: Jeremy C. Shipp
Genre: Horror Novella
Number of Pages: 105
Another absolutely bizarre book from Jeremy C. Shipp. Like Bedfellow, I enjoyed its creativity but did not enjoy the ending. It didn’t really engage me emotionally but I appreciated how Shipp managed to create the feeling of a vivid, disturbing dream. Reading his books reminded me of watching Eraserhead for the first time; it put me in a totally different headspace, rationality and logic be damned.
Danna is a schoolteacher mourning the loss of her son when she gets hired by the Valdezs an au pair for their daughter, Isabella. The parents live in a looming mansion filled with bizarre artwork and statues of humanoid figures with bizarre or mutilated features. Danna doesn’t seem as fazed by this as you might expect, suggesting to the reader that the book is set in a somewhat altered version of what ‘real life’ feels like.
Then she finds out that the girl she’s supposed to be looking after is dead. She drowned not too long ago but her mom senses her spirit and wants to continue her education. Being dead has made Isabella spiteful and destructive, and even though Danna initially can’t sense her she feels sympathy for the mom’s grief and decides to go along with the craziness, at least for a little while.
Then it appears that Mrs. Valdez is having dissociative episodes and regressing, playing the role of her daughter and not remembering it afterwards. Oh, and the dead daughter left behind a stuffed capybara that occasionally turns into a real capybara, which everybody just seems cool with. Nothing to see here, folks. The setting is great, and I loved the mix of horror and familial tragedy, dished up with a big plate of Gothic.
I didn’t feel like I got to know any of the characters (I know, it’s a novella, but I still feel like there could have been a little more effort made in that regard.) Not knowing anything about Danna and the circumstances under which she lost her son made it lack emotional resonance, in my opinion. Also, the book jumps the shark a little bit in the last 10 pages or so, lacking closure or coherency.
Like Bedfellow, the conclusion is by far the weakest aspect of the novella. I enjoyed the wackiness and I’d love to see at as a movie, especially if the filmmaker could capture the freakish nature of the house and its architecture. This is one of those cases where it might actually be better as a movie than a book, if they did a really good job with it.