Editor’s Choice Review September 2016, Horror

The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Amal El-Mohtar, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

My Lady, Malady, Mad Lady by RM Graves

This story grabbed my attention from the first paragraph and kept me interested until the last.  So many stories feel so familiar, it’s great when a story surprises me or heads in an unexpected direction.  The description of the narrator “spreading out” is awesome.  On the other hand, I read many stories that seem like they’re trying to be weird for the sake of being weird, not because they have something to say.  What I appreciate most about “My Lady, Malady Mad Lady” is that the surreal elements ultimately provide a payoff, an insight into human nature, rather than just showing me a bunch of weird stuff and leaving me with nothing more.

I do think that payoff could be strengthened , though.  For me, the ending suggests that the narrator’s obsession with helping his family climb up out of a hole has made him too inwardly focused.  He has been missing what’s important–the external world and his family–by focusing on this perhaps non-existent problem.  I like that, but I don’t feel the earlier part of the story sets this up as well as it might.  If the problem is his obsession with this hole, what happened before the beginning of the story to trigger or escalate his worry?  It seems as if he has thought of life as a climb up a cliff for a long time.  But something must have happened to increase his fear of failing at this climb.  Did he feel his father was helping, or would help with an inheritance upon his death, but the inheritance was quickly spent and they are in more debt than ever?  Has he lost his job or have his hours cut back?  I think you could make a reference to something like this early in the story.

Some of the details also don’t seem to work with the ending.  When the narrator relates that his eyes would “sometimes roll to the back of [his] head when [he]rested on the sofa on a Sunday afternoon,” that makes he think that his contemplation of the hole is something he does for relaxation and recreation.  Instead, I would think that his eyes would do that when he’s at work, when he is paying the bills, when anyone in his family asks for anything, at night, as well as on Sunday afternoons when he’s trying to relax but can’t.  Instead of resting on the sofa, I think he would be pacing or distracted.

His realization that he is climbing down instead of up seems a passing thought, when I think it should be a horrifying motivator.  He ought to be desperately trying to figure out how to flip it around, instead of just thinking that once and dropping it.  How does he think he can turn it around?  Worrying about this can escalate his obsession with this hole further.

The narrator seems too passive at times.  If this concern has frozen him into inaction, so all he can do is worry, that needs to be clearer.  When he finally does act, going to the doctor and then the Mad Lady, I don’t really believe he would do it.  I understand his wife is pushing him, but I think he needs his own reason to go.  Maybe he sees that his transformation is getting worse.  Maybe his penis is disappearing or something similar to escalate his problem and make him desperate enough to try something he hasn’t been willing to do before.

I think some changes like these will make the ending feel more “right” and will also make it more powerful.

I hope my comments are helpful.  I really enjoyed the bizarre images and the theme.

–Jeanne Cavelos–editor, author, director of Odyssey

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