Saturday, January 14, 2017

A Human Stain, by Kelly Robson

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(Horror) Helen comes to Meersee in Germany to be a governess for her friend’s nephew. The child is young and peculiar, the staff are old and peculiar, and more peculiar things turn up by the minute. (9,734 words; Time: 32m)

Rating: ★★★☆☆ Average

"," by (edited by Ellen Datlow), published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: The excellent narration and dialogue quickly sweep the reader into this story, and it holds one's attention all the way to the end.

In terms of plot, Helen just wants to earn some money and get back to her life in Paris. Bärchen needs to replace the nursemaid, Mimi, who is almost used up. Or perhaps they need to feed someone to the monsters in the lake from time to time. (No wonder the staff won’t tell her anything!)

Helen isn’t a good person, though. She’s the sort who gets drunk, sleeps until the afternoon, breaks into family crypts—the sort who schemes to seduce a young girl who’s subordinate to her, who wasted all her money in Paris, etc. It’s not a surprise that she comes to a bad end.

Con: She hardly deserves an end quite this bad though.

The biggest problem with the story is that the big reveal, that the beasts in the lake are the parents of the little boy, is hard to believe. Nothing to that point had suggested that Peter or Bärchen weren’t human.

It seems unfair that Helen licks the fluid from Peter’s fingers due to some external compulsion, since, from that point on, her fate is set.

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2 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. Well, that was definitely horrifying. Although I feel as if elements were chosen for their effect rather then cohesiveness with plot and world-building. For example, why giant grubs? Because reptile eggs just aren't creepy?

    The only clue I could see that the family wasn't human was Bärchen's remark about how his brother had gotten too many babies on his wife so that she was grotesquely swollen. This is just after he's told her the thing in the lake is a log. Of course, you think it isn't just a log, but the suspicion is that it's what killed them, not what they've become.

    I did a re-read trying to make more sense of things and noticed a couple very subtle details. First, Peter's skin is described as pale, grub-like, and almost translucent. Second, amongst the serpent home decor, the dining room chairs seem to portray the family life cycle: "Each one was topped by a sea serpent, thick and twisting, with staring eyes faced with mother-of-pearl. Under it was a rudely-rendered pair of human forms, male and female. And beneath them were thumb-sized lumps the shape of fat grubs."

    The underlying theme of the story seems to be addiction. Tobacco, alcohol, and finally whatever the heck Helen, and Mimi before her, succumb to. Is the salt the serpents are guarding really some extreme, euphoric, hallucinogenic drug?