Friday, May 20, 2022

JUST LIKE MOTHER, truly horrific, horrifying, horror fiction


Tor Nightfire
$26.99 hardcover, available now

Rating: 3.5* of five


The Publisher Says: A girl would be such a blessing…

The last time Maeve saw her cousin was the night she escaped the cult they were raised in. For the past two decades, Maeve has worked hard to build a normal life in New York City, where she keeps everything―and everyone―at a safe distance.

When Andrea suddenly reappears, Maeve regains the only true friend she’s ever had. Soon she’s spending more time at Andrea’s remote Catskills estate than in her own cramped apartment. Maeve doesn’t even mind that her cousin’s wealthy work friends clearly disapprove of her single lifestyle. After all, Andrea has made her fortune in the fertility industry―baby fever comes with the territory.

The more Maeve immerses herself in Andrea’s world, the more disconnected she feels from her life back in the city; and the cousins’ increasing attachment triggers memories Maeve has fought hard to bury. But confronting the terrors of her childhood may be the only way for Maeve to transcend the nightmare still to come…


My Review
: The opening scene...Maeve, locked in a closet (!), hearing hideous screams of agony and being quietly comforted by her cousin Andrea as they go on and on, had me riveted. And that is that!

All the momentum drained out of the story for me as we went from following her child-self to the chase narrative laid on for adult Maeve. The reason? I don't like adult Maeve. She's either a bit simple or she's got The Most Trusting nature ever plopped in a human being. Either way I want to shout at her, shake her until the missing connections in her brain click together, until she sees the simplest manipulations are being used on her with appalling regularity and success.

In the story universe, Maeve is one of the girl children in The Mother Collective whose purpose is to control matrilineally all the money and power that men have always controlled. They're using that power and wealth as men always have, to oppress and abuse their opposite numbers. Maeve's rescued/kidnapped by the Patriarchy at the ripe old age of eight and, unsurprisingly, is a Survivor and PTSD sufferer for the rest of her life.

When we rejoin her first person narrative, she's a never-was in her thirties, making her meager crusts of bread as a fiction editor. She's naturally quite wary of relationships, having very few...until Andrea comes back into her life. Andrea, her cousin from childhood, is fabulously wealthy and living a dream life as the big boss of a fertility start-up.

If you've read horror novels, you pretty much know what's coming.

It occurs, over the course of some thirty chapters. I'd say if you don't already have a grasp on the end of the book it will come as a shock to you. It did not do so to me. I was along for the ride, though, because I started to want this idiot woman Maeve to suffer some more right here in front of me as Andrea manipulates and sets her up.

The actual ending of the book was pretty clearly telegraphed from the start. I kept hollering at Maeve, "just LOOK AT ANDREA for ten seconds and you will see it!" But she didn't, and I began to suspect her intelligence truly was subnormal.

When, at around the half-way mark, Maeve's friend-with-benefits pays one hell of a price for her vague, unconnected relationship to life, I was ready to say "sayonara." I decided to do something I don't usually do: I read the epilogue. There was another vile w-bomb aimed by Maeve, there was a moment of clarity for Maeve, and there was something so deeply schadenfreude-inducing that I had to get there step by step.

This is a horror novel for those, like me, who aren't in the Cult of Mother, and whose belief in the goodness of Woman is so frayed and chopped that it can no longer be discerned from a streak of extra-dark dirt etched on my skin. I think Author Heltzel has created a dark, dreadful mirror of the life men have forced, and continue to force, women to lead. There is nothing innate in the desire to Mother someone for many women. Uteruses are not always the only important organ in a woman's body, and her existence should never be presumed to revolve around that organ's use in any way.

If you can read this book and not see that the nightmare is very real, and that its fictionalization is merely cosmetic, then you're at Maeve's level. I don't think I know many folk like that. But if one reads this: Go back and look carefully at every decision Maeve makes. What that will tell you is all you need to know.

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