Things Withered by Susie Moloney. Book review

THINGS WITHERED by Susie Moloney, ChiZine Publications, p/b £13.56, Kindle £4.99

Reviewed by Rebecca Lloyd

Susie Moloney is a new find for me and each story in this collection is very different. In ‘The Windemere’, quite a deal of the ‘horror’ is encapsulated in the life of the main character Anita, who is surrounded in her job as a realtor with unsympathetic workmates and a creepy boss. Anita’s paranoid thoughts are convincingly portrayed, and indeed, the inside of her head is another part of the horror. This macabre story unwinds at a steady pace and when what is happening with Tracey, Stephanie, Lily and Winnie, becomes clear, the spotlight shifts from Anita’s paranoia. This was a beautifully paced story, and although, being an old hand, I had a healthy sense of where the reader was being led from quite early on, that did not diminish my enjoyment of it.

However, Truckdriver, hit me in another and deeper place and Cory, the main character has just the right mixture of arrogance, ignorance and vulnerability. The story begins to take on sinister colours gradually although nothing actually happens but Cory’s own thoughts. What his intentions are for his beloved truck aren’t clear to him at first, but bit by bit, or drip by drip maybe, seemingly sinister elements drift into the picture. This is a wonderfully understated story, and one of my favourites.

‘Wife’ is a terrific piece of writing about paranoia, it’s a well-structured story with a stunningly dramatic ending, although at first it is hard to know if Karen, the main character, has a real secret, or that she is the victim of delusion. Moloney writes so well about vulnerability and the facades people invent to hide behind. In ‘Poor David’, David never really recovers from his first experience of seeing a dead body. These last two stories are played out in domestic settings, but they are gritty and shot through with horrifying detail – a dark picture of suburban life and jobs in vile places. There is a powerful sense of claustrophobia in both ‘Wife’ and ‘Poor David’.

The stories in ‘Things Withered’ are psychological horror stories in which the reader slips and slides along with the characters as they wonder about what they are seeing and experiencing. But at the same time there are flashes of quiet humour among the fear and uncertainty, particularly when the element of the macabre is strongly present, as it is, for example, in ‘Poor David’.

In ‘The Last Living Summer’, a spooky and strange story and another of my favourites in this collection, the reader knows there is something very wrong going on and the tension is partly evoked from the very measured build up that Moloney handles so well. She relishes also, I feel, writing about lazy husbands with bright motivated wives/girlfriends as she does in the truly droll ‘The Audit’:- ‘He turned a page of the newspaper with such slowness, such snapping of newsprint, such rolling of fat that she wanted to turn and scratch him….’

Dogs come into ‘Things Withered’ too, and although for me, they are suitable candidates for horror stories, being horrible, ‘The Humane Society’ with dogs Tucker and Digger, is a simple and well told story that was very moving, although it was funny and at the same time gritty and stark.  I think this would be the story I most liked for its simplicity, trueness to real life and compassion. (‘Dogs’ is another very odd story, thought provoking and this time with no joking involved).

Much more in the fantasy genre than ‘The Humane Society’, is ‘Reclamation on the Forest Floor’. Shara kills Hilary it would seem and the consequences are mighty queer, far more than a harmless yeast infection: ‘She sucked up the fluid that seemed to continually pool under her tongue. It was foul, tasting as it smelled, like the shore of Lake Winnipeg in August when everyone was going home.’

The final story, ‘The Neighbourhood or To the Devil with You’, is perhaps the strangest story in the collection in that it strikes a particular note and sings it all the way through to the end. There is something wonderfully compelling about it; it seems to be about nothing, it seems to almost want to make you turn away as you listen to the narrator’s endless descriptions of her neighbours, but even if you try you won’t be able to, you’ll be like a fly on sticky fly paper, until the end when the big shock comes.

I am happy to have reviewed this collection; it has a wonderful title,(although I don’t quite think it fits the mood and tone of the stories), and it did keep me up through some dark and bitter nights.