Review: Nightmare #68

Nightmare #68, May 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “Ally” by Nalo Hopkinson (fantasy short story)
  • “Bride Before You” by Stephanie Malia Morris (horror short story)

In “Ally,” Sally used to be friends with Pete when she was Jack but that change put a strain on their relationship. Nonetheless, she’s at the funeral of Pete’s husband, Iqbal, and Pete wants to go for a drink afterward. He then tells her the true story of his upbringing as a foster-child by an initially evil woman and the initially abusive relationship he and Iqbal had. Then a breakthrough both occurred and occurs.

You might think this is Pete’s story but it’s not: it’s all about Sally, with Pete’s trauma being a vehicle for Sally’s all-important validation. That’s really all that needs to be said but, for a couple of minor points, I don’t know why it was necessary to dump a dozen names on us in an early paragraph when this story has only two characters (or one) and I also don’t see how the fantasy element of this is dark, much less horrific (except in the very background regarding the evil foster-mother and only from her point of view).

Bride Before You,” on the other hand, is very much horror and much more effectively about its narrator. Before the story opens, an upper-class black woman had gone to the conjure woman to find out how to become magically pregnant as part of a plan to get herself out of the “South” of Washington and back to New York but had gotten carried away and produced two children: a beautiful boy and his elder sister… a black spider. Her plan misfired in terms of moving, as well. The narrator spider, who can only creep about in the dark as an outcast, believes in the class-tradition of the eldest marrying first, so takes a dim view of the brother’s fiancees.

This can probably be read in a lot of ways and it’s obviously some extreme sibling rivalry but I can’t help but also think of a rich and poor divide that says, “Don’t ignore me or leave me behind or think you’re better.” The narrator’s speech rings almost perfectly right in the abstract but it could be seen as a problem that a spider that grew up in such a high-falutin’ house would have it unless it has symbolic/thematic purposes. A more serious problem is that the ending seems a little shaky, not in content but in narrative approach, after having such a focused point of view and strong voice. Speaking of that personality, it may just be me because I have a sometimes strange sense of humor but, while this was a very dark and horrific story, a couple of moments seemed almost funny in a demented way. Despite some questions or quibbles, this was a stimulating and fascinating story.