To start off, I was immediately captivated by the name of this novella. She Loves Monsters. It immediately makes me wonder who is “she,” what are the “monsters,” and what exactly does she love about them?
The synopsis says that Christopher Lake is a reclusive filmmaker, a Wunderkind of epic proportions who dropped out of the public eye upon completion of his fourth film, Vorada. (Side note: “Vorada” is a word that sounds both cataclysmic and powerful, and perhaps it is, but it is also a fabrication of the author’s brain. I looked it up, and the closest I could come to a definition was, ironically, the Spanish term – Catalan to be specific – a la vora de which means “close” or “nearly”). It’s been 15 years, and now Jack Calner – the son of Lake’s late partner – wants the film. Lake and his sister, Venus, have been living on the Calner’s estate (aptly named Montage) rent free while the film was “completed” based on an agreement with Jack’s dad. But Jack is a disciple of the almighty dollar and heads to Montage to claim either the film or the house.
She Loves Monsters starts off eerie and becomes even more so as you go along. On the way to Montage Jack strikes a woman with his car, a naked woman who’s been running through the woods. Even stranger, when he goes to check on her, she runs off into the woods…seemingly uninjured. Things become even more curious when Jack continues on to the house and meets Bunny, the perhaps slightly mentally challenged gardener who, despite his seemingly sweet demeanor, has a surprisingly dark secret in his past.
The next person Jack meets is the lovely Venus Lake, Christopher’s sister, who quickly informs him that Christopher is in no condition to be signing anything over to him because Christopher has been practically catatonic since he completed Vorada. The story that follows as Jack begins his search of Montage, determined to find the film and make his money off it, is both twisting and twisted. Nothing is as it seems, not Christopher’s coma, not Venus’ demeanor, or Bunny’s nonchalance…not even Jack.
Clark’s writing is dark and lush, vivid and beautiful, but this story isn’t clear cut with a pat ending. Many fans of the series Masters of Horror will recognize some similarity to the storyline of the “Cigarette Burns” episode. But Clark’s managed something different here. This is less about evil and more about moral ambiguity. The element of horror comes from the ideas Clark poses about humans, about agendas, about how far people will go to do what they think needs to be done. There are no undead killers or bloodsucking freaks here, just the darkness and light that lives within the human heart.
While I loved the subject and the style (a large part of the story takes place during a brilliantly surreal trip after Jack has been drugged, and the description is so bright, fluid, and shifting that it conveys the trip kaleidoscopically well), the characters were sort of inaccessible and two-dimensional. Jack was the only character that was easy to see beyond the page, and that was because his all-consuming greed is commonplace. Both Venus and Bunny are interesting creations, but they are so mysterious that they were harder to touch. Venus’ actions and motives are clear only when it comes to Vorada, and her naked dashing through the woods seems like a story I would’ve liked to hear. Bunny is just a big enigma wrapped in a question mark. He’s intensely interesting, but aside from the barest facts he’s so palely drawn. Or perhaps these characters only pale in comparison to the heightened color and texture of the surroundings.
I feel so on the fence with this one, which is frustrating. On one hand it’s an intellectual and darkly twisted acid trip of a horror ride. But on the other there seems to be so much more waiting just below the surface. Clark is definitely talented and without a doubt someone whose work is worth the read, that much is certain, but this piece of work is not for everyone. If you’re a fan of the more obscure corners of horror where not everything is clear and much is open to discussion and interpretation, then She Loves Monsters will thrill you. I will definitely be rereading it, perhaps several times, to look at if from many different angles. You might want to as well.
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