Monstrous Affections

Monstrous Affections

by David Nickle

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Overview

10th Anniversary Illustrated Edition!

A young bride and her future mother-in-law risk everything to escape it. A repentant father summons help from a pot of tar to ensure it. A starving woman learns from howling winds and a whispering host, just how fulfilling it can finally be. Can “it” be love?

Here is the classic debut collection of creepy tales from David Nickle, the award-winning author of such celebrated works as Volk: A Novel of Radiant Abomination and Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism. One of the foremost practitioners of Canadian Gothic fiction, Nickle is widely acclaimed for his evocative prose and sui generis imagination.

This 10th anniversary edition of Monstrous Affections includes—along with the original introduction by acclaimed author and journalist Michael Rowe—a foreword by Bram Stoker Award-winning author John Langan, an afterword by Shirley Jackson Award-winning author Laird Barron, and illustrations by David Nickle.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781926851792
Publisher: ChiZine Publications
Publication date: 04/10/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 277
File size: 368 KB
Age Range: 15 Years

About the Author

David Nickle is a Toronto-based author and journalist. He is author of several novels—most recently, Volk: A Novel of Radiant Abomination, a sequel to his novel Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism —and numerous short stories. He is a past winner of the Bram Stoker Award.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

The Geniality of Monsters by Michael Rowe

It's a truism that horror cannot exist separate from comfort, safety, and love. It is impossible to experience horror — which is a destination, not a departure point — without first experiencing the security of a place, literal or conceptual, from which the ground will fall away, revealing a vast, awful blackness of terrible possibility; a cold lightless country of sharp teeth and claws. An eternally rediscovered country where pain is the default national condition, and terror is the gross national product.

The stories in Monstrous Affections are indeed horror stories by any objective standard, and they are superlative horror stories — the work of a scrupulous and demanding writer who would wrestle the Devil himself for a the perfect word. Within these pages you will meet a variety of monsters, including a Cyclops, a family of mutants with a terrible gift for love, and yet another family with harsh ideas about generational hierarchies and the price of defiance. But they are also first-rate short stories of high literary quality. No less an authority than Peter Straub has written of the entirely ersatz classification system that keeps certain stories, and certain writers, outside the velvet ropes of the self-perpetuating bookish elite no matter how excellent, how transcendent, the writing is.

There is writing of that calibre among the short stories in Monstrous Affections.

The term "Canadian gothic" is an overused one, and it has come to mean many things to many people — readers, critics, academics, and students — over the course of the development of Canadian literature as a self-conscious literary school. It's not often applied to horror fiction, largely because of unfortunately persistent literary prejudices and stereotypes. But I would say that, first and foremost, the Canadian gothic literary canon is where I would place the speculative fiction work of David Nickle.

The majority of his work is set unapologetically in Canada, his homeland. For a speculative fiction writer, that has traditionally been a challenge due to a perception that American editors and readers will not take horror fiction seriously with a Canadian setting.

On the other hand, this is one of the areas where, among horror writers who are also serious literary writers, the men are separated from the boys (and indeed the women from the girls — to wit, the blood-ruby short fiction of International Horror Guild Award-winner Gemma Files). Nickle's vision of Canada will be a revelation to any reader who might be expecting the round-edged, inoffensive, long-suffering Canada of legend. His literary road trip along the moonlit country roads of the various small towns that dot the farmland outside the cities (especially the town of Fenlan, his particular corner of the dark universe) will be, simultaneously, immediately recognizable to anyone who is familiar with small towns, and dreadfully disorienting in the way a dream gone terribly wrong is disorienting, especially when you try to wake up, and realize you can't. I dislike clichéd terms like "national treasure," but David Nickle is a succinct answer to the endless gripe about why Canada hasn't produced more horror stars.

He knows the undertaste of familial relationships — for instance, in "The Sloan Men," the time-honoured rite-of-supplication of meeting your true love's mother for the first time — and how they can be pushed to the literal edge of madness. He understands, as in "Polyphemus' Cave," exactly what love and loyalty cost, and that sometimes all it takes is a little nudge to the brink of darkness to turn the process of growth into a scarlet, blood-soaked scream.

But mostly, he understands that horror really can't exist separate from comfort, safety, and love — or friendship. My personal favourite in this collection is "The Webley," a story marked by a singular absence of the supernatural or the paranormal. The monsters in "The Webley" live in the most spectral realm of existence extant, the human mind. It's a story that contains an essential quality of heartbreak and poisoned nostalgia that will haunt you, and follow you like the sound of breathing in a dark room. Breathing you know isn't your own. His monsters can, on occasion, be quite genial. But make no mistake; they are monsters in every sense of the word.

What to say of David Nickle personally? How to separate the dancer from the dance? If we must, here's a sketch: He's a good and loyal friend. He's fiercely intelligent and kind. He's a gentleman around women (and around men too, for that matter) and he can hold his liquor. He's affable about giving rides home from conventions to friends without cars. He's dry, funny as hell, and generous to a fault. Also, he's not bad looking, to be honest.

OK, enough?

Having been his editor over the course of three original horror fiction anthologies, I can say without reservation that he is one of the most professional authors I've ever worked with. He's a courageous writer who isn't afraid to step outside his comfort zone in the service of his fiction, and a deadly serious one when it comes to pushing himself and his material through however many drafts it takes till the story is as close to perfect as he feels it can be, a fact I see amply reiterated in this first, stellar collection of his best short stories.

This closed book is — or was — that comfortable place I spoke of earlier, the aforementioned place of comfort, safety and love, the border between safety and a world tilted into chaos. The act of opening the covers has set horrible, efficient machinery into motion. And you are solely responsible for what you have released into the world by starting it up. When you close your eyes tonight, your dreams will serve as a subterranean passageway for any of the monsters, which had previously been safely contained within the pages of this book, to tunnel their way out into the world.

Your world. Our world. My world.

Thank you so very much for that, my dear. It isn't as if we don't all have nightmares of our own to contend with, without you dreaming your own into existence — with David Nickle, the author of this collection, as your medium.

The Farmhouse, Toronto Summer 2009

CHAPTER 2

The Sloan Men

Mrs. Sloan had only three fingers on her left hand, but when she drummed them against the countertop, the tiny polished bones at the end of the fourth and fifth stumps clattered like fingernails. If Judith hadn't been looking, she wouldn't have noticed anything strange about Mrs. Sloan's hand.

"Tell me how you met Herman," said Mrs. Sloan. She turned away from Judith as she spoke, to look out the kitchen window where Herman and his father were getting into Mr. Sloan's black pickup truck. Seeing Herman and Mr. Sloan together was a welcome distraction for Judith. She was afraid Herman's stepmother would catch her staring at the hand. Judith didn't know how she would explain that with any grace: Things are off to a bad enough start as it is.

Outside, Herman wiped his sleeve across his pale, hairless scalp and, seeing Judith watching from the window, turned the gesture into an exaggerated wave. He grinned wetly through the late afternoon sun. Judith felt a little grin of her own growing and waved back, fingers waggling an infantile bye-bye. Hurry home, she mouthed through the glass. Herman stared back blandly, not understanding.

"Did you meet him at school?"

Judith flinched. The drumming had stopped, and when she looked, Mrs. Sloan was leaning against the counter with her mutilated hand hidden in the crook of crossed arms. Judith hadn't even seen the woman move.

"No," Judith finally answered. "Herman doesn't go to school. Neither do I."

Mrs. Sloan smiled. She had obviously been a beautiful woman in her youth — in most ways she still was. Mrs. Sloan's hair was auburn and it played over her eyes mysteriously, like a movie star's. She had cheekbones that Judith's ex-boss Talia would have called sculpted, and the only signs of her age were the tiny crow's feet at her eyes and harsh little lines at the corners of her mouth.

"I didn't mean to imply anything," said Mrs. Sloan. "Sometimes he goes to school, sometimes museums, sometimes just shopping plazas. That's Herman."

Judith expected Mrs. Sloan's smile to turn into a laugh, underscoring the low mockery she had directed towards Herman since he and Judith had arrived that morning. But the woman kept quiet, and the smile dissolved over her straight white teeth. She regarded Judith thoughtfully.

"I'd thought it might be school because you don't seem that old," said Mrs. Sloan. "Of course I don't usually have an opportunity to meet Herman's lady friends, so I suppose I really can't say."

"I met Herman on a tour. I was on vacation in Portugal, I went there with a girl I used to work with, and when we were in Lisbon —"

"— Herman appeared on the same tour as you. Did your girlfriend join you on that outing, or were you alone?"

"Stacey got food poisoning." As I was about to say. "It was a rotten day, humid and muggy." Judith wanted to tell the story the way she'd told it to her own family and friends, countless times. It had its own rhythm; her fateful meeting with Herman Sloan in the roped-off scriptorium of the monastery outside Lisbon, dinner that night in a vast, empty restaurant deserted in the off-season. In the face of Mrs. Sloan, though, the rhythm of that telling was somehow lost. Judith told it as best she could.

"So we kept in touch," she finished lamely.

Mrs. Sloan nodded slowly and didn't say anything for a moment. Try as she might, Judith couldn't read the woman, and she had always prided herself on being able to see through most people at least half way. That she couldn't see into this person at all was particularly irksome, because of who she was — a potential in-law, for God's sake. Judith's mother had advised her, "Look at the parents if you want to see what kind of man the love of your life will be in thirty years. See if you can love them with all their faults, all their habits. Because that's how things'll be ..."

Judith realized again that she wanted very much for things to be just fine with Herman thirty years down the line. But if this afternoon were any indication ...

Herman had been uneasy about the two of them going to Fenlan to meet his parents at all. But, as Judith explained, it was a necessary step. She knew it, even if Herman didn't — as soon as they turned off the highway he shut his eyes and wouldn't open them until Judith pulled into the driveway.

Mr. Sloan met them and Herman seemed to relax then, opening his eyes and blinking in the sunlight. Judith relaxed too, seeing the two of them together. They were definitely father and son, sharing features and mannerisms like images in a mirror. Mr. Sloan took Judith up in a big, damp hug the moment she stepped out of the car. The gesture surprised her at first and she tried to pull away, but Mr. Sloan's unstoppable grin had finally put her at ease.

"You are very lovely," said Mrs. Sloan finally. "That's to be expected, though. Tell me what you do for a living. Are you still working now that you've met Herman?"

Judith wanted to snap something clever at the presumption, but she stopped herself. "I'm working. Not at the same job, but in another salon. I do people's hair, and I'm learning manicure."

Mrs. Sloan seemed surprised. "Really? I'm impressed."

Now Judith was sure Mrs. Sloan was making fun, and a sluice of anger passed too close to the surface. "I work hard," she said hotly. "It may not seem — " Mrs. Sloan silenced her with shushing motions. "Don't take it the wrong way," she said. "It's only that when I met Herman's father, I think I stopped working the very next day."

"Those must have been different times."

"They weren't that different." Mrs. Sloan's smile was narrow and ugly. "Perhaps Herman's father just needed different things."

"Well, I'm still working."

"So you say." Mrs. Sloan got up from the kitchen stool. "Come to the living room, dear. I've something to show you."

The shift in tone was too sudden, and it took Judith a second to realize she'd even been bidden. Mrs. Sloan half-turned at the kitchen door, and beckoned with her five-fingered hand.

"Judith," she said, "you've come this far already. You might as well finish the journey."

The living room was distastefully bare. The walls needed paint and there was a large brown stain on the carpet that Mrs. Sloan hadn't even bothered to cover up. She sat down on the sofa and Judith joined her.

"I wanted you to see the family album. I think —"

Mrs. Sloan reached under the coffee table and lifted out a heavy black-bound volume " — I don't know, but I hope ... you'll find this interesting."

Mrs. Sloan's face lost some of its hardness as she spoke. She finished with a faltering smile.

"I'm sure I will," said Judith. This was a good development, more like what she had hoped the visit would become. Family albums and welcoming hugs and funny stories about what Herman was like when he was two. She snuggled back against the tattered cushions and looked down at the album. "This must go back generations."

Mrs. Sloan still hadn't opened it. "Not really," she said. "As far as I know, the Sloans never mastered photography on their own. All of the pictures in here are mine."

"May I ...?" Judith put out her hands, and with a shrug Mrs. Sloan handed the album over.

"I should warn you —" began Mrs. Sloan.

Judith barely listened. She opened the album to the first page.

And shut it, almost as quickly. She felt her face flush, with shock and anger. She looked at Mrs. Sloan, expecting to see that cruel, nasty smile back again. But Mrs. Sloan wasn't smiling.

"I was about to say," said Mrs. Sloan, reaching over and taking the album back, "that I should warn you, this isn't an ordinary family album."

"I —" Judith couldn't form a sentence she was so angry. No wonder Herman hadn't wanted her to meet his family.

"I took that photograph almost a year after I cut off my fingers," said Mrs. Sloan. "Photography became a small rebellion for me, not nearly so visible as the mutilation. Herman's father still doesn't know about it, even though I keep the book out here in full view. Sloan men don't open books much.

"But we do, don't we, Judith?"

Mrs. Sloan opened the album again, and pointed at the Polaroid on the first page. Judith wanted to look away, but found that she couldn't.

"Herman's father brought the three of them home early, before I'd woken up — I don't know where he found them. Maybe he just called, and they were the ones who answered."

"They" were three women. The oldest couldn't have been more than twenty-five. Mrs. Sloan had caught them naked and asleep, along with what looked like Herman's father. One woman had her head cradled near Mr. Sloan's groin; another was cuddled in the white folds of his armpit, her wet hair fanning like seaweed across his shoulder; the third lay curled in a foetal position off his wide flank. Something dark was smeared across her face.

"And no, they weren't prostitutes," said Mrs. Sloan. "I had occasion to talk to one of them on her way out; she was a newlywed, she and her husband had come up for a weekend at the family cottage. She was, she supposed, going back to him."

"That's sick," gasped Judith, and meant it. She truly felt ill. "Why would you take something like that?"

"Because," replied Mrs. Sloan, her voice growing sharp again, "I found that I could. Mr. Sloan was distracted, as you can see, and at that instant I found some of the will that he had kept from me since we met."

"Sick," Judith whispered. "Herman was right. We shouldn't have come."

When Mrs. Sloan closed the album this time, she put it back underneath the coffee table. She patted Judith's arm with her mutilated hand and smiled. "No, no, dear. I'm happy you're here — happier than you can know."

Judith wanted nothing more at that moment than to get up, grab her suitcase, throw it in the car and leave. But of course she couldn't. Herman wasn't back yet, and she couldn't think of leaving without him.

"If Herman's father was doing all these things, why didn't you just divorce him?"

"If that photograph offends you, why don't you just get up and leave, right now?"

"Herman —"

"Herman wouldn't like it," Mrs. Sloan finished for her.

"That's it, isn't it?" Judith nodded.

"He's got you too," continued Mrs. Sloan, "just like his father got me. But maybe it's not too late for you."

"I love Herman. He never did anything like ... like that."

"Of course you love him. And I love Mr. Sloan — desperately, passionately, over all reason." The corner of Mrs. Sloan's mouth perked up in a small, bitter grin.

"Would you like to hear how we met?"

Judith wasn't sure she would, but she nodded anyway. "Sure."

"I was living in Toronto with a friend at the time, had been for several years. As I recall, she was more than a friend — we were lovers." Mrs. Sloan paused, obviously waiting for a reaction. Judith sat mute, her expression purposefully blank.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Monstrous Affections"
by .
Copyright © 2009 David Nickle.
Excerpted by permission of ChiZine Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Cover,
Title Page,
Copyright,
Dedication,
The Geniality of Monsters | Introduction by Michael Rowe,
The Sloan Men,
Janie and the Wind,
Night of the Tar Baby,
Other People's Kids,
The Mayor Will Make a Brief Statement and Then Take Questions,
The Pit-Heads,
Slide Trombone,
The Inevitability of Earth,
Swamp Witch and the Tea-Drinking Man,
The Delilah Party,
Fly in Your Eye,
Polyphemus' Cave,
The Webley,
Acknowledgements,
Copyrights,
About the Author,

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