"The Virgin Butcher" by Brenna Yovanoff Graham
This is my second review of an issue of Chizine (my first being issue #31). This issue is very different from the previous (or is that next?) one. It still consists of a mixed collection of horror and poetry presented absolutely free of charge to anyone with a yen to simply browse over and look at it, but these stories are a significant departure, stylistically speaking. I appreciate the editors of Chizine for having thrown such a wide net in their quest for horror entertainment.
I’m not really sure what to make of Gemma Files’s “Spectral Evidence.” On first reading, it seems to be a forensic report, kind of like an episode of C.S.I., only with a paranormal bent, and wholly examining a series of photographs and the notes scribbled on their backs. On second reading, it maybe includes a story of love and betrayal, though that’s far from clear and may in fact only be my spin on things. Though a fairly interesting read, perhaps like reading a journal article in Nature, I believe the author did have a story they were definitely trying to tell, and I’m disappointed that I can’t get a better feeling for what it was supposed to be. Furthermore, though I find the “journal” format (complete with footnotes) to be a deeply original approach to the short story, I also find it unpleasantly disjointed and difficult to read.
“Deer’s Heart” by Leah Bobet has to be the most twisted spin on “Sleeping Beauty” ever conceived. Inhabiting the fog-shrouded landscape between fantasy and horror, some pure horror enthusiasts might be turned off by this story, rooted as it is in shapeshifting and old-tyme earthen magic. The story closure, the evident thought with which it was constructed, I think will win over people who stick with it. It is very complex with several twists and turns, no mean feat in a story only eleven pages long. It is furthermore a carefully paced and structured story, very pleasing from a technical standpoint.
Far and away the most disturbing (which is a good thing, this being horror and all) story contained within this issue is Brenna Yovanoff Graham’s “The Virgin Butcher.” I’d like to think that the twin horrors of this story—that of a young girl working in a Middle Eastern slaughterhouse and being molested by one of the other workers there—is in the past. It is more comforting to believe that these things lie in a distant time, the middle ages perhaps, but the real horror is, of course, being unable to deny to myself the fact that these things can and are happening today. Brought to blood-spattered light by Graham’s vivid and realistic descriptions, I can only add that I would be most surprised to learn that she had never actually worked in a slaughterhouse herself.