This mysterious, holiday-themed collection starts off, of course, with New Year's Day and
"Memoir of a Deer Woman," where a woman's transformation into a deer is a metaphor for her
struggle and acceptance of terminal cancer. Valentine's Day is celebrated with a "Journey
into the Kingdom," winner of the World Fantasy Award, where a young, lonely girl falls in
love with a ghost. A May wedding in "The Machine" is a tale of innocence lost and terrible
revenge, a story not for the faint of heart. Mother's Day brings us a not-so-sweet tale set
in the near future where women who have had abortions are punished, in "Evidence of Love in
a Case of Abandonment One Daughter's Personal Account." Even if you lost a son and gain a wolf,
it's still Father's Day in "Don't Ask"--just be sure you fill the water bowl! No Independence
Day celebration is complete unless you tell the tale of a "Traitor," or in this case a
nine-year-old girl that doesn't want to do what Mommy wants her to do. When the heat is summer
is upon us, it's best to leave the garden fairies alone, or at least not torture them, or suffer
the fate of the little girl in "Was She Wicked? Was She Good?" A surreal Halloween story, "You Have
Never Been Here," leaves one wondering if it was all a dream, in a tight, tension-filled mystery.
A Vietnam veteran is featured for Veteran's Day, in "War is Beautiful." Tortured by his term in Vietnam, a
solder befriends a local Vietnamese girl--or is she a ghost? The collection ends with a Halloween
to Christmas tale, "The Christmas Witch," where all the children of a town collect bones, and the
darker side of childhood is told.
These eleven tales will lead to eerie, mysterious, and downright creepy visions of little girls and
their secret thoughts, imaginations, and capabilities.
Tangent Online review
"Memoir of a Deer Woman"
"Journey into the Kingdom"
"Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment: One Daughter's Personal Account"
"Was She Wicked? Was She Good?"
"You Have Never Been Here"
"War is Beautiful"
"The Christmas Witch"
Reviewed by Richard E. D. Jones
Holiday, the new collection of short stories by M. Rickert, is the perfect book to curl up with as the actual holidays approach. Provided, of course, your idea of a holiday is something in which you're battling constant, overwhelming feelings of dread as the inevitability of crushing horror sneaks up next to you with a large, spiked hammer dripping red and gooey.
Which is to say, this is not a collection for the weak. It is, though, a collection for those who enjoy meticulous stories, full of engaging characters coping with the appalling horrors lurking just out of the corner of their eye.
"Holiday," the short story that gives this collection its name, provides a taste of what's to come. The protagonist (and I hesitate to call him, or, really, any of the characters in these pages, hero) is a survivor of childhood abuse. The story charts his seemingly inevitable slide into the terminal velocity of a vicious cycle of abuse and horror until, at the end, he stands revealed in a Gacy-esque clown costume, smiling at the distant laughter of children. It is, without a doubt, one of the creepiest stories I've ever read. And I haven't even mentioned the ghost of Jon Bennett Ramsey.
One of the things I liked best about Rickert's stories is the way in which she conflates the mundane with the magical. Things go along, not well, but they go along, until we get that one line, that simple sentence that sets the hairs on the back of your neck rising on their own in a dance of warning.
In "The Christmas Witch," the long story that closes out the volume, we have the following: "She uses a skull, and a long bone that might be from a fish, the small shape of a mouse paw, and a couple of chicken legs. She sucks her thumb while she waits for it to do the silly dance again." The story of a troubled little girl who becomes caught in a web of her own half-truths and evasions as she deals with a new town and the death of her mother, "The Christmas Witch" is creepy, scary and more believable than I wanted it to be.
Included in this book also is "Journey into the Kingdom," her World-Fantasy-Award-winning short story. In "Journey," Rickert explores the nature of ghosts and how we can create our own without even meaning to do so. It's one of those stories I just can't stop thinking about, remembering the ease with which the protagonist makes a certain choice to act. To say more would be to spoil and I don't want to do that.
"Was She Wicked? Was She Good?," the story written expressly for this volume, is another example of one of Rickert's recurring themes: victimization by and of children. Following an obscure, violent incident in the big city, two parents move with their little girl to the country where the little girl amuses herself by torturing fairies. The sweet, laughing little girl leaves the fairies' mutilated little bodies in horrible poses on the front porch. ". . . in a way, we have become her victims," the father thinks. The steps he takes to make his daughter a "normal" girl and the reasons behind it are truly horrifying.
The story that stuck with me the most, though, would have to be "Traitor." In a future America, citizens are waging unconventional warfare against the government. A mother and her daughter live alone in a small apartment that holds a secret room the daughter isn't supposed to see, while the mother builds very special backpacks that the daughter has to deliver. And one backpack filled with wires and clay the mother straps to her daughter, locks it around the young girl's body, and then sends her daughter off on a specific route. That line? The one that really made me shiver? It's spoken by the daughter to her mother: "I'm not stupid." The almost inevitable climax combines the horrors of war with the longing of a child for her mother, no matter the circumstances. It's one of those stories that I continue thinking about long after reading and that's a high compliment.
With Holiday, M. Rickert managed to seriously creep me out. Her greatest skill lies in making the depredations people will sink to when they believe they're doing the right thing seem plausible, almost normal.
The inclusion of no less than 22 interior illustrations (plus the cover) by Thomas Canty puts a beautiful finishing touch to an already handsome book. This is not only a collection you need to read but one you'll be proud to own.
Ghosts and mythic beings populate this holiday-themed collection of eleven tales to read by candlelight. "Holiday," where a
story of all holidays for a dead girl and the man who sees her, is followed by New Year's Day and "Memoir of a Deer Woman,"
a woman's transformation into a deer leaves her husband desperate for her words. Valentine's Day is celebrated with "Journey
into the Kingdom," winner of the World Fantasy Award, where a young girl falls in love with a ghost. A May Day wedding in
"The Machine" is a tale of innocence lost and terrible revenge, a story not for the faint of heart. Mother's Day brings us a
future where women who have had abortions are punished in "Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment: One Daughter's
Personal Account." Father's Day is marked by asking what is lost forever when a stolen boy returns, in "Don't Ask." In a
story for Independence Day, a nine-year-old girl's first act of independence is also an act of revenge, in "Traitor." Not
all anniversaries are happy occasions and in "Was She Wicked? Was She Good?" one family copes with the damage that remains
after being victims of a home invasion. A surreal Halloween story, "You Have Never Been Here," asks if the body is the mask
we all wear. A Veteran's Day story, "War is Beautiful," features a soldier in the Vietnam War who befriends a local girl-or
is she a ghost? The collection ends with a Halloween to Christmas tale, "The Christmas Witch," where a lonely, little girl
struggles to survive in a town of children that collect bones.
Holidays are days of honor. These eleven tales, eerie, mysterious, and creepy, honor the human experience of death and redemption. They might keep you up at night, but why not
extend the celebration?
As an added bonus, each story has two illustrations by Thomas Canty.
by M. Rickert
Hardcover, ISBN 978-1930846654
Out of Print