Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Donner Party, by Dale Bailey

★★★★☆ Powerful, but not for the Squeamish

(Alternate History Horror) In this version of 19th-Century England, only the upper classes are entitled to eat human flesh once a year in a special ceremony. (10,234 words; Time: 34m)

Recommended By: πŸ†Locus+2 πŸ“™EDatlow+1 πŸ“™RHorton+2 πŸ‘GDozois.r+1 πŸ‘RSR+1 πŸ‘STomaino+1 (Q&A)

Recommended because the story is so effective, but only read this if you are sure you want to be horrified.

"The Donner Party," by (edited by C.C. Finlay), appeared in issue 01-02|18, published on by .

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

Review: 2018.053 (A Word for Authors)

"Donner" xkcd #30
Background: The Donner Party was a group of American pioneers who were stranded in the Sierra Nevada mountains during the winter of 1846-47. To survive, they resorted to cannibalism, and it was rumored that some of them committed murder.

Pro: The moment Mrs. Donner expresses interest in Sophie, we’re sure she’s going to end up eating the child. From that moment on, there’s rising tension up to the point where Mrs. Donner reports “It was taken wild” and we’re sure it really was Sophie.

The real horror, though, is that Mrs. Breen is so happy to be back in society that she doesn’t care at all about losing her daughter. Mr. Breen never cared for the girl, but her mother's reaction shows them both to be complete monsters.

I think there’s a message here about how the upper classes in any era where children die from preventable causes are effectively living on human flesh. More subtly, it could also be read as a message about how wealthy people who are ruining the world today are also destroying it for their own children too.

Con: : It’s really, really gross. The scene where Mr. Foster eats a bite of the rare flesh and some of the blood runs into his moustache (and we’re sure it’s Sophie’s blood) is just impossible to bear.

The conclusion was horrifying in a different way, and left me feeling upset for hours. Partly, I think, because I couldn't believe a real mother would react that way (especially after how we saw her playing with Sophie) but partly because I couldn't entirely convince myself of that.

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2 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. It's devilishly brilliant how Mrs. Breen is showed to be at a remove from her child; loving her, but only when circumstances kind of force her to. That... pays off. You think it's going "NOW she cares MORE," buuuut that isn't it.

    Likewise: ew ew ew.

  2. Even though I saw it coming, I was holding out hope. I thought that there was no way it could be done that quick -- surely they're just scaring her...but no.

    The end with the Breens in the carriage was very chilling. When she said "This was your doing," I thought for a second she had just been holding back until they were alone... but again no.